The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed their ruling for a Christian seeking asylum in the U.S.
The three-judge panel vacated the earlier ruling that denied Li Xiaodong of Ningbo, China an asylum application in the United States on Tuesday. The decision came after Christians throughout the U.S. and human rights groups joined to support the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), the attorneys that represented Li.
"Religious liberty is the bedrock foundation of this country's history," ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman said in a statement on November 2nd.
"Had the 5th Circuit panel's decision upholding the BIA's original ruling been allowed to stand, it could have allowed for a wrongly reasoned distinction between religious belief and religious practice," he added.
In the case Li v. Gonzales on Aug. 9, Li was denied asylum under the Convention Against Torture Act, effectively requiring him to be deported back to China where he would have faced two years imprisonment.
The 5th Circuit upheld a decision made by the Board of Immigrations (BIA) and found that Li was a member of the underground evangelical church in 1995, holding gatherings that were not approved by the government, and trying to escape "prosecution" instead of "persecution."
Because of this ruling, a coalition of human rights groups and Christian organizations have been writing letters and trying to get the 5th Circuit to reverse their ruling, since Li received a reprieve on Oct. 6.
The United States Commission International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said the case was "unprecedented" because it "provided refuge from international law for…countries that criminalize unregistered religious activity," USCIRF Chair Michael Cromartie said on October 3.
However, the Chinese government recently released its first white paper proclaiming democracy in the state, and announced that people in China are enjoying human rights more "comprehensive and fuller than they have enjoyed in the past"
The paper declared that human rights have improved and that people's freedom to religious beliefs have been protected and guarantees the legitimate rights of religious groups and venues of religious activites are not violated.
China permits Christians to worship in government-sanctioned churches or under the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), but millions of Christians choose to worship in unofficial churches because of the restrictions placed on church activities, such as evangelism and certain teachings. Many of the unregistered congregants have been subjected to persecution or imprisonment.