Experts on religious liberty cautioned participants at a weekend conference in Rome that discrimination and persecution against Christians is growing in many regions of the world.
Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at
the Hudson Institute, spoke about the causes underlying current global
“Western secularism has been growing in the last few decades,” Marshall
told CNA in a Dec. 13 interview. “I want to emphasize that the patterns
we're talking about are not like those in the remaining Communist world
or the Middle East. It's not persecution in that sense, but it's getting
“There are very ominous trends and I think we need to be aware of them,
in terms of job discrimination, of the ability to speak out your mind,
the ability to live out your faith. Things are really worsening in the
West,” he explained.
He pointed to several recent examples of this discrimination, including
“German home-schooling families applying for asylum in the United
States; people being fired from their jobs for holding Christian
“These things are new, and then the Pew Forum on Religion and Public
Life, a major center on religion statistics, says its measures of
religious hostility in Western Europe are now as high as they are in the
Such situations arise from an underlying mentality, noted Marshall.
“You've had patterns, very strongly in the educational system, of the
assumption that a secular society is a society where religion has no
place. It can be private, within your home, within your church, but it
has no place in society at large.”
Rather than a traditional notion, “this is a new and very unusual view,”
which is further tied to the “idea that a society cannot really be open
if religion is present.”
“Instead of a generally open society where secular people are free,
Christians are free, (and) Hindus are free,” the more novel view of
secular society is one “where the State holds to a particular ideology
and demands that everybody succumb to it.”
Marshall described the change in understanding as “a shift from a plural society to an ideologically secular society.”
“And that’s worrying,” he stressed.
Marshall spoke at the “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and
Contemporary Perspectives” conference, held Dec. 13-14 at the Pontifical
Urbaniana University in Rome. The conference is a project of the
Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for
Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for the Holy See's Relations
with States, also addressed the conference on Dec. 13, focusing on
“discrediting the erroneous and outdated notion that Christianity is the
enemy of personal freedom and conscience, and that its claim to truth
surely leads to violence and oppression.”
“Nothing could be historically less accurate than statements such as these,” he said.
The Archbishop emphasized the crucial link between Christianity and
freedom, noting that “it has its roots in the teaching of Christ
“Freedom is intrinsic to Christianity, for it was, as (St.) Paul says, for freedom that Christ set us free.”
Although the apostle was referring primarily to “interior freedom,”
explained Archbishop Mamberti, “this interior freedom naturally also has
consequences for society.”
When human beings fail to value religious freedom, the results for wider society can be quite damaging, he cautioned.
“Indeed, whenever human beings cannot be open to the infinite according
to their conscience, truth yields to a mendacious relativism and justice
to the oppression of the prevailing ideology, whether it be atheistic,
agnostic, or even overtly religious.”
The modern notion of freedom tends to be understood as “mere caprice” or
“in a purely negative sense as the absence of constraint,” he said.
Yet the more traditional and Christian idea of freedom is “not dominated
by fear, but rather by the joy of that truth which sets us free,” the
Such a vision, he said, “provides a bulwark against both relativism and
against those forms of religious fundamentalism which, like relativism,
see in religious freedom a threat to their own ideological dominance.”