The advent of Christmas- a season to be celebrated by Christians worldwide- has prompted a group of religious freedom activists to reflect on the growing threat over religious freedom faced by believers around the world.
"As we wind up the Senate session for the Christmas holidays one of the things that we wanted to reflect on was the amount of religious persecution around the world with respect to the freedom of Christians to be able to celebrate the holiday," said Senate Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, who has initiated the special panel held Wednesday, according to the Focus on Family.
The panel "Christmas Under Siege Around the World" at the Capitol has assembled a group of eight religious freedom activists, including members of the Congressional Working Group on Religious Freedom and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), according to Washington Times.
The event aimed to address the persecution faced by Christians around the world, especially at this holiday season which calls attention to Christianity and often leads to increased harassment.
Indonesia, China, Uzbekistan, Iran and North Korea were the countries that have been highlighted as serious violators of religious freedom, the Washington Times reported.
Richard Land, who is a member of the USCIRF, as well as president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commented about China as saying "the scope of political openness and individual freedom is narrowing" in 2005. He also pointed out that penalties exacted for teaching children about God is very "worrisome", according to the Washington Times.
The Catholic Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput, a participant in the Working Group meeting, highlighted the escalating persecution against Indonesian Christians by Islamic extremists.
"The bloodshed is overwhelmingly provoked and carried out by Islamic militants against the Christian minority," the Archbishop was quoted by the Washington Times, as he referred to the beheadings of three Indonesian Christian schoolgirls November in Poso.
Middle East, the historical homeland of Christianity, has drawn widespread concern regarding the increasing violence against believers by Islamic extremists.
The Assyrian scholar Dr. Eden Naby reported the situation of Assyrian Christians in Iraq, saying that many of them are fleeing to the neighboring countries such as Turkey, Syria and Jordan, according to the Washington Times.
Assyrian churches are often being openly attacked by Iraqi Kurdish soldiers. "Last year at Christmas in one of the major towns, extremists broke in beat up the priest, tore up the church and the people had to go home terrified," said Naby, Focus on Family reported.
"The Assyrians are the last speakers of Aramaic, the language of Jesus and these people are being driven out of country after country," she added.
Naby also warned of the new constitution of Iraq, which "could open the door for Shariah, or Islamic law, throughout the country."
Lawrence Uzzell, president of the International Religious Freedom Watch, have strongly complained the situation in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, describing both as "remote desert dictatorships" that are "the most vicious persecutors of religious faith" among the former Soviet republics, according to the Washington Times.
Indeed, many religious freedom watchdogs, including USCIRF, have been urging the U.S. Department of State to designate the two countries as "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPCs).
The Archbishop Chaput concluded by saying "anti-Christian persecution and discrimination around the world ... is ugly, it's growing." In addition, he accused the mass media of "generally ignore or downplay its gravity."