For the first time in history, the United States was named among the list of nations that persecute Christians.
The Hall of Shame report is prepared yearly by the International Christian Concern, an organization that helps persecuted Christians all over the world. However, this year, the organization deviated from just giving its usual list of the top 10 countries where persecution is severe; it created three categories to show more clearly the intensity of persecution in the countries listed.
The "Worst of the Worst" category identifies the "most egregious state persecutors." These include North Korea, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria.
In North Korea, an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 Christians are detained in prison camps where they are tortured, raped, starved and overworked. According to the ICC, the conditions are comparable to those experienced by Holocaust victims. One report said members of a family were killed in a gas chamber, while another report cited an instance when prisoners were "forced to stone each other to death."
North Korea is also number in the recently released list of the top 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted, the 2017 World Watch List from Open Doors.
The "Core Countries" category lists countries that are "less egregious" but have been abusing religious freedom for a long time. These include China, Pakistan, Egypt, India and Saudi Arabia.
China's intensified crackdown on Christians has resulted in the destruction of more than 400 churches and the removal of more than 2,000 church crosses. China also holds many believers in custody because of the faith they profess.
In Pakistan, the blasphemy laws are often used to unjustly accuse, charge or retaliate against Christians, who are often subjects of abuse. The bombing of churches is also not uncommon in this country.
The "New and Noteworthy" category identifies countries where persecution is not as severe as the first two categories but the decline of religious freedom has become a "cause for alarm." The U.S. is listed under this category, along with Russia and Mexico.
ICC said that "shifting perceptions are causing conflicts between Christian beliefs and public sentiment" in the U.S., and this has led to attacks against Christians and sometimes even their businesses through lawsuits and laws restricting free speech.
"The rise of these cases stems partly from a broad cultural shift towards secularism," the report said. "Anti-Christian entities have been able to leverage the growing secularization of society and culture to their advantage, utilizing the courts as a preferred venue to gradually marginalize and silence Christians."
In Russia, the Yarovaya laws approved last year have greatly restricted religious freedom, while in Mexico, Protestant Christians are targets of persecution and suffer from loss of livelihood and property.
Jeff King, president of ICC, urged Christians to fight against persecution.
"Persecution must and can be fought," he said in a press release. "Religious persecution must be named and shamed on an international level. Journalists need to speak out about Islam's mistreatment of other religions, while concerned individuals should get involved in the fight by contacting their elected representatives and by calling embassies and requesting fair treatment for Christians overseas."