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In 1998-SEP, the London Observer (UK) commented:

"Most global conflict can be blamed on a basic imbalance: mankind is made up of 5,000 ethnic groups with only 190 countries to live in."

There is much merit in this statement:

bullet Perhaps the most vicious conflict in recent years was in Rwanda, where two ethnic groups (Hutus and Tutsis) clashed, even though they follow the same religion.
bullet A serious ethnic conflict continues with the Kurds because they have no country of their own, but are occupying portions of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq Syria, and Turkey.

But, much conflict can also be attributed to multiple religious groups within a country, as in

bullet Bosnia (Roman Catholics, Serbian Orthodox, Muslims)
bullet China (Communists (interpreted as a religion), Christians)
bullet India (Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Aboriginals, etc.)
bullet Indonesia (Christians, Muslims)
bullet Middle East (Christians (to a small degree), Jews and Muslims)
bullet Northern Ireland (Protestants and Roman Catholics)
bullet Sri Lanka (Hindus, Buddhists)
bullet Sudan (Christians, Muslims)
bullet Philippines (Christians, Muslims)
bullet Tibet (Communists, Buddhists)

In many cases, conflicts have many root causes: racial, ethnic, religious, economic, etc. This makes it difficult to determine the main cause of the strife.

When one faith group attains political power in a religiously divided country, then the potential for persecution based on religion is high. Countries with a policy of separation of church and state appear to have less religious discrimination.

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North American Religious Persecution:

In the U.S. and Canada, most religious oppression and persecution is in the form of:

bullet Government action in which there is a conflict between religious freedom and other government interests. Some recent examples have been:
bullet Prosecution of followers of a Native faith under anti-drug legislation because they followed centuries-old rituals which use peyote.
bullet Prosecution of Santerians by the city of Hialeah, FL, because of the former's ritual sacrifices of chickens and other small animals.
bullet Oppression of Jehovah's Witnesses in Quebec in the past.
bullet Decisions in many child custody cases in which the rights of a parent are abridged for religious reasons.
bullet Religiously motivated attacks by individuals and small groups:
bullet One common type of religious oppression appears to involve conservative Christians and their coworkers. The latter often feel harassed by unwanted, repeated attempts at religious conversion by Evangelicals. Meanwhile, the religious conservatives are often ostracized by their co-workers because of their conversion activities.
bullet The numerically most common serious religious attacks appear to be antisemitic actions by skinheads and a small minority of extreme right wing political and religious groups. Usually, attacks take the form of desecration of Jewish synagogues, cemeteries, etc.
bullet The numerically most common attacks, on a per-capita basis, are believed to be a very small minority of Christians attacking those Neo-Pagans who openly practice their faith. The only recent religiously motivated lynching and attempted mass murder in the United States have involved these two groups.
bullet Much of the public believes that the numerically most common religiously motivated homicides are probably by  underground Satanic cults who kidnap infants and children for abuse and ritual murder. This appears to be a hoax; We have been unable to find any hard evidence that such abuse is actually happening.
bullet The numerically most common religiously motivated homicides appear to arise accidentally during exorcisms, where physical abuse aimed at driving demons from people's bodies inadvertently escalates into murder.

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Religious Persecution Outside North America:

According to David B. Barrett, about 165,000 Christians will by martyred during the year 2000, largely by communist régimes, Fundamentalist Hindus, and Fundamentalist Muslims. 9 Meanwhile, during the year 2000, relatively few Christians are actively involved in the religiously-motivated killing of individuals of other faith groups; the only such hot spots are Northern Ireland and the Philippines.

Oppression of persons for their faith is far more widespread - both by religious groups and governments. The latter tends to take two forms:

bullet Attacks on all religions by Communist governments. Some of the more serious examples are:
bullet The Communist oppression of Buddhists in Tibet
bullet The Communist oppression of Christians in China.
bullet Attacks on religious minorities by (or with the assistance of) governments which are allied with religious groups within their own countries: This type of oppression seems to appear to some degree in almost all of those countries which lack a wall of separation between church and state; i.e. governments that are partial or full theocracies. Some examples are:
bullet The Muslim Sudan government's massive oppression against Christians and Animists in the south of their country.
bullet Oppression and some extermination of Christians in a few Indonesian islands by Muslim para-military groups.
bullet Religiously motivated genocide and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia are being effectively controlled by peace keepers. These acts involved Muslims, Serbian Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics both as perpetrators and victims.
bullet The severe restrictions imposed on dress, freedom and behavior by the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Trends are difficult to quantify, because reliable data are not generally available. Other trends:

bullet The level of antisemitism appears to be growing worldwide. 
bullet Attacks on Neopagans in North America by individuals, politicians and Christian religious leaders are expected to grow in the new millennium for a variety of reasons. 
bullet In Europe, there appears to be a serious increase in Government oppression of small religious groups - notably against:
bullet The Church of Scientology in Germany
bullet The Jehovah's Witnesses in France.
bullet Small religious groups in Russia
bullet Minority Protestant groups in Greece.

The situation in France and Germany appears to be fueled mainly by counter-cult hysteria. That panic has been discredited in North America and is largely inactive here. But the movement has been exported to Europe where it appears to be growing in influence. Oppression of small groups in Russia and Greece appears to be driven by a desire of the Christian Orthodox Churches to attain a religious monopoly.

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International Day of Prayer

The Prayer for the Persecuted Church sponsors an in mid-November each year. They appear to be focusing totally on Christian victims of religious persecution. They state that:

bullet There have been more Christians killed in the 20th century than in the previous nineteen centuries combined.
bullet Over 200 million Christians in more than 40 countries worldwide "face the prospect of persecution" because of their religion.
bullet More than 150,000 Christians were expected to be killed for their faith in 1997.

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US State Department Responses

John Shattuck recently spoke on behalf of the US State Department. He is the assistant secretary of their Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. He indicated that the issue of religious persecution has "skyrocketed" to a much higher place on the Department's agenda in recent years. He said that the fall of Communism unleashed a "global instability" that in turn unleashed religious hatreds. In some cases, as in Bosnia, political leaders stimulate religious conflict to further political objectives. The State Department has responded by:

bullet Establishing in 1996-NOV, a 20-member advisory committee on religious liberty overseas.
bullet Issuing in 1997-JUL, a blistering 56-page report on religious freedom in other countries. 4
bullet Instructing its ambassadors to closely monitor religious persecution in their countries.
bullet Counseling U.S. companies doing business overseas to employ business practices that promote religious freedom.
bullet Giving greater coverage to religious persecution problems via Radio Free Europe and other outlets.

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Related essay on this web site:

bullet Review of report by the Center for Religious Freedom

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  1. The 1997 International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church has a home page at:
  2. International Teams has a series of essays on persecution of Christians at:
  3. Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, "Their Blood Cries Out: The Untold Story of Persecution Against Christians in the Modern World", Word Books, (1997). You can Review and perhaps buy this book from online bookstore A brief extract is at:
  4. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Affairs of the U.S. government issues an annual report on religious freedom around the world. The 1997-JUL-22 report, "United States Policies in Support of Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians" is at:
  5. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has a series of articles on religious persecution. See:
  6. The Christian Persecution Report "is dedicated to serving the body of Christ, through protecting the human rights of Christians." See:
  7. "The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church," at: 
  8. Prayer for the Persecuted Church can be reached at (888) 538-7772
  9. "Report: 165,000 Christians will be martyred this year," Maranatha Christian Journal, 2000-NOV-21, at: 

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Copyright 1998 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-SEP-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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