A case involving a Christian who was recently denied asylum in the United States, received a reprieve on Thursday after a coalition of Christian and religious rights organizations joined together to protest his deportation.
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) reversed their own 2003 ruling on an evangelical house church Christian, Li Xiaodong of Ningbo China on Oct 6, which would have led to his deportation back to China where he would have faced imprisonment.
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) represented Li at the end of August after a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit denied his application for asylum under the Convention Against Torture Act.
The Fifth Circuit found that in 1995, Li was a member of the underground evangelical Christian church who was arrested for holding illegal church services at his home.
The ruling was unprecedented since, Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman said "the facts are undisputed – Mr. Li was tortured and persecuted merely for being a Christian."
The growing coalition of human rights organizations included the Christian-based Jubilee Campaign USA and Amnesty International, whom were most recently bolstered by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom's (USCIRF) letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
"Everyone agrees that the United States should be the world leader in protecting human rights and religious freedom," Cortman said.
The letter written by USCIRF Chair Michael Cromartie requested that Gonzales look over the decision made by the Fifth Circuit that said Li was prosecuted because he failed to register his church instead of on persecution.
Cromartie said, "The Commission is deeply troubled by the potential impact of this decision and the positions advanced by the Department of Justice in that case, which we believe undermine the international leadership of the United States in protecting asylum seekers and advancing the right to freedom of religion or belief."
Moreover the case was unprecedented because it will "provide refuge from international law for those countries that criminalize 'unregistered' religious activity," which will thereby "refuse refuge…to those who flee persecution from such countries," Cromartie added.
China permits Christians to legally worship in officially recognized churches, however it is rejected by millions of Catholics and evangelical Christians because of the restrictions placed on their church activities.
Despite the legal battle ahead, ADF was pleased to hear the ruling made by the BIA. Cortman said, "This is certainly a great day for Mr. Li," but "it is important to all those facing religious persecution that the Li decision be withdrawn by the court."
ADF said that they are currently working with the Department of Justice, requesting that the 5th Circuit "vacate its decision denying Mr. Li asylum."
"The Alliance Defense Fund is a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom…."