Appreciating religious freedom this Easter

By Vanessa Kamberis, Research Associate, HALC

For the past 40 days Orthodox Christians in America have used the Lenten period to prepare for the upcoming Easter celebration. For many, this time of self-reflection highlights religious customs and traditions dating back to the early days of the church. Eggs are dyed red, icons are decorated with palms and flowers, Byzantine chanting echoes throughout the church, and, most importantly, families and communities come together in heartfelt celebration. Whether you participate in these traditions or not, the fact remains that as Americans we have the freedom to make that choice. Unfortunately, many others — primarily in Christianity’s ancestral homelands — do not have the opportunity to safely practice the religion of their forefathers without fear.

Government restrictions on religion around the world, in one map (from new report: http://pewrsr.ch/2nZFGP9 )

On Tuesday April 10th, Pew Research Center published its annual report on global restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion. The report indicated that in 2015, for the first time in three years, there was an overall world increase in both categories. “The share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions — i.e., laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices — ticked up from 24% in 2014 to 25% in 2015.” Additionally, the report noted that “the percentage of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities — i.e., acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society — increased in 2015, from 23% to 27%.” While all religious groups experience some level discrimination, “Muslims and Christians — who together make up more than half of the global population — continued to be harassed in the highest number of countries”

A funeral procession on Monday for victims of a church bombing in Alexandria, Egypt. The attack killed 17 people. CreditAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

These statistics come during a time when not only Christians, but Jews alike celebrate their holy season. This week, Egypt declared a state of emergency after two Coptic churches were attacked during Palm Sunday services. The Islamic State ultimately took responsibility for the horrendous attacks injuring approximately 100 people and leaving 45 dead. ISIS terrorist activity is not restricted to Egypt, but spreads throughout the Middle East. Countless religious and historical sites have been destroyed and those not in line with ISIS’ radical beliefs fear what is to come.

Religion has often been at the center of conflict throughout history. The genocide of the Armenians, Greeks, and other ethnic and religious minorities during the early 1900’s is a prime example. Millions of people were slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks merely because their religion distinguished them as Greek or Armenian. The loss of these Christian communities still remains unacknowledged, as the Turkish government fails to recognize these atrocities as an act of genocide.

HALC members marching alongside the Armenian community in remembrance of the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks

HALC has repeatedly stood at the forefront of the fight for religious freedom. HALC’s efforts include working with ethnic communities to recognize the atrocities occurring in the Middle East, advocating for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, calling for the re-opening of Halki Seminary, fighting for religious freedom in the occupied parts of Northern Cyprus, and much more.

This Easter season let us stand together in memory of all those who perished in the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire. It takes just one minute to use our online tool to contact your Representative to co-sponsor H. Res, 220, a bill pending in Congress which would recognize the genocide of Armenians, Greeks, and others at the hands of the Ottoman Empire:

Click here to contact your Representative today

That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States, in seeking to prevent war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against Christians, Yezidis, Muslims, Kurds, and other vulnerable religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East, should draw upon relevant lessons of the United States Government, civil society, and humanitarian response to the Armenian Genocide, Seyfo, and the broader genocidal campaign by the Ottoman Empire against Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Greeks, Pontians and other Christians upon their biblical era homelands.

Click here to contact your Representative and ask them to co-sponsor H. Res 220 today.