News Roundup

US and UK should use foreign policy and trade links to leverage help for persecuted Christians, say Church leaders

The Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a meeting of political and faith leaders on Wednesday to discuss concrete ways of protecting Christians from persecution.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt attended the meeting at Lambeth Palace in London.

Archbishop Welby proposed that the UK use its trade links with countries where persecution occurs to pressure Governments to protect the freedom of religion of all believers.

Representing the Catholic Church, Archbishop Kevin McDonald said concern for religious freedom needs to inform policy across government, particularly on foreign Aid and the sale of armaments.


Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi is free at last

Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian who spent eight years on death row after being charged with blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed has finally been released from custody and has arrived safely in Canada.

Last year, her death sentence was overturned by the Pakistani Supreme Court, but Ms Bibi was kept in custody when the ruling sparked violent protests by Islamic extremists.

Paul Coleman, Executive Director of the law firm ADF International, welcomed her release, but cautioned that many other Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan continue to face severe persecution and denial of their fundamental rights.


New rules in US protect medics from facilitating abortions

In the US, new rules have been issued to protect doctors and nurses with a conscientious objection to abortion.

The new regulations of the Department of Health and Human Services means medical personnel can’t be forced into doing abortions or abortion referrals. In Ireland, pro-life doctors who won’t perform abortions are required to refer women to doctors who will.

Prior to this, a lack of clarity meant pro-life doctors and nurses were vulnerable to discrimination that forced them out of their chosen specialties.

Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Director Roger Severino said the new rule ensures that medical professionals won’t be bullied out of health care because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience.


Church of Ireland to debate persecution of Christians

The Church of Ireland will debate a motion calling on the Department of Foreign Affairs to place the persecution of Christians on a par with all other human rights issues. The motion will be debated at its General Synod in Derry next week.

The motion also calls upon the Church to examine its investments in companies that work in nations where the human rights of Christians are violated most egregiously, with a view to divesting from those companies that are associated with such violations.

The motion has been proposed by Rev Cliff Jeffers, the Rector of the Fanlobbus Union of the Parishes of Dunmanway, Drimoleague, Cooklelure and Drinagh in the diocese of Cork, Cloyne & Ross.

The motion reads: “That the House of Bishops would write to the Department of Foreign Affairs, asking it to place on a par the persecution of Christians in its dealing with other nations that it does all other human rights issues; and that Standing Committee would write to House of Bishops of the other provinces of the Anglican Communion, asking them to call on the governments of their countries to act to ensure the human rights of Christians around the world; and that the Church of Ireland would examine its investment portfolio (in the manner it has done over other issues such as fossil fuels,) considering whether the companies in which it directly invests are based in or conduct a significant part of their business in those nations around the world where the human rights of Christians are violated most egregiously, and in instances where this is the case consider engagement with and/or divestment from those companies that are associated with clear evidence of human rights violations in these countries.”


Fine Gael defends two year wait for divorce

Fine Gael Culture Minister Josepha Madigan has defended the proposal to have a two-year waiting period for divorce rather than have a shorter period on the grounds that, “We don’t want people in this situation making a knee jerk reaction to the breakdown of their marriage so we felt that two years was more appropriate.”

Minister Madigan said that there has to be an equilibrium between allowing people the time to sort out their affairs, “but not punishing them unduly”.

Currently, the Constitution requires that a couple be separated for four out of the last five years before they can divorce. The Government is holding a referendum on May 24 to remove the waiting time from the Constitution completely and replace it with a two year waiting time in statute law. Future Governments will then be free to further reduce the waiting time if they wish.


Persecution of Christians ‘coming close to genocide’ in Middle East

Pervasive persecution of Christians, sometimes amounting to genocide, is ongoing in parts of the Middle East, and has prompted an exodus in the past two decades, according to an interim report commissioned by the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

Millions of Christians in the region have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against, the report finds. It also highlights discrimination across south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and in east Asia – often driven by state authoritarianism.

“The inconvenient truth,” the report finds, is “that the overwhelming majority (80%) of persecuted religious believers are Christians”.

Hunt described the interim report based on a review led by the bishop of Truro, the Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen – as “truly sobering”.

Hunt said: “I think we have shied away from talking about Christian persecution because we are a Christian country and we have a colonial past, so sometimes there’s a nervousness there,” he said. “But we have to recognise – and that’s what the bishop’s report points out very starkly – that Christians are the most persecuted religious group.”

He added: “What we have forgotten in this atmosphere of political correctness is actually the Christians that are being persecuted are some of the poorest people on the planet. In the Middle East the population of Christians used to be about 20%; now it’s 5%.”


Canadian Lawyers election shows resounding rejection of PC regulation

A slate of candidates opposed to controversial new ‘equality and diversity’ regulation have won 55% of the seats on the Canadian State of Ontario’s legal governing body.

Out of 40 available positions, 22 of the election winners ran against the Law Society’s new “statement of principles,” which would have forced all lawyers to “create and abide by an individual Statement of Principles [SOP] that acknowledges your obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in your behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients, and the public.” There was a concern that such a regulation would impinge most strongly on Christian lawyers opposed to the imposition of gender ideology etc.

Critics argued that compelling individuals to uphold prescribed personal values went too far and infringed on Charter freedoms. As a result, a slate of candidates ran to stop the Statement of Principles.

StopSOP in a press release said that the requirement “compels speech, infringes freedom of thought and conscience, and imposes a political litmus test for the practice of law in Ontario.” Now, thanks to their recent win, StopSOP’s “newly elected Benchers will get to work to repeal the SOP” and will work with other Benchers to “rein in the Law Society’s ever-expanding mission, bureaucracy and ballooning budgetary expenditures,” according to a press release.


Decisive victory for religiously persecuted in India

A pastor of a small Indian village has been acquitted of charges held against him under disputed anti-conversion laws. In 2016, Pastor Balu, his wife, his son, and members of his congregation were violently attacked, later detained by the police and falsely accused of forcing conversions to Christianity. The landmark ruling marks an important victory against India’s anti-conversion laws, which increasingly threaten the fundamental rights of religious minorities.

“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. The acquittal of Pastor Balu and his family is a vital step towards the protection of religious freedom and the right to freely live out one’s faith. Now he can continue to tend to his small community of Christians without interference from the state. Unfortunately, this is not the only case in India where Christians have been falsely accused under anti-conversion laws. These laws make religious minorities subject to arbitrary imprisonments and criminal charges, mob violence, and violations of their fundamental rights,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of ADF India.


Law Society all in for ‘Yes’ vote in divorce referendum

The Law Society of Ireland has called for a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming divorce referendum.

The announcement was made yesterday when the society launched a report with 11 recommendations for reform of divorce law in Ireland.

Its principal author Dr Geoffrey Shannon said the current requirement to live apart for a period of four years prior to the institution of divorce proceedings “may now be considered too long”. He added: “It may result in a duplication of legal expenses and protracted proceedings, where parties are involved in both judicial separation and divorce proceedings over time.”

Judicial separation is allowed after a 12 month wait. The Government is proposing to introduce a two year wait for divorce if the referendum is passed.


Child referrals for sexual behaviour have ‘sky-rocketed’ – expert

Referrals of children for inappropriate sexual behaviour have “sky-rocketed” in recent years, a leading child welfare expert has warned. Kieran McGrath was speaking ahead of the publication of his book on the issue, Understanding and Managing Sexualised Behaviour in Children and Adolescents.

Mr McGrath warned that smartphones in particular “can be used to ensnare children in behaviours that can damage them for the rest of their lives”. He said that young males especially were being exposed to widespread pornography that bore no resemblance to the straightforwardly sexual pornography of the past. It consisted now of extreme, explicit, violent and degrading material which was “damaging the developing brains of young males in a way that causes them to be more narcissistic and uncaring of others”.