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For the first time ever, the United States has been added to an annual list of the world’s persecutors of Christians and countries that are regressing in religious freedom.

The United States, Mexico and Russia were listed as “new and noteworthy” nations in the 2016 “Hall of Shame Report” published by the Washington, D.C., based human rights group International Christian Concern, or ICC.

The “worst of the worst” countries for Christian persecution – the “most egregious state persecutors” – included Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and North Korea.

Others listed as “core countries” – or nations that are less egregious in their persecution but are “perennial abusers of religious freedom” – were Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China and India.

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While ICC notes “there is no comparison between the life of a Christian in the U.S. with persecuted believers overseas,” the group noted a number of “worrying trends as an alarming indication of a decline in religious liberty in the United States.”

ICC President Jeff King explained: “We felt it was very important this year that we highlight three countries where religious discrimination and persecution are deemed unusual but have reached a certain threshold of concern. These are Mexico, Russia, and sadly, the United States.

“While conditions in the U.S. are in no way comparable to other countries on the list, a certain segment of the culture and the courts seem to be intent on driving faith out of the public square. There have been too many court cases with bad decisions to miss the clear trend line.”

See the ICC “Hall of Shame” map:

ICC-countries

For example, after Muslim terrorist Omar Mateen murdered 49 and injured 53 innocent people in a June 11, 2016, attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, it was Christians whom many targeted with blame, the report states.

“Incredibly, after the attack, numerous high profile media outlets blamed the attacks on what they perceived as the anti-LGBTQ atmosphere that Christians have created.

“In short, Christians in the U.S. are facing constant attacks in the media, where they are portrayed as bigoted, racist, sexist, and close-minded.”

That false characterization may also be translating into direct assaults on believers, the report noted, citing statistics from the First Liberty Institute indicating attacks on religion doubled between 2012 and 2015.

ICC noted that Christians and other religious groups have been marginalized through the law.

“From the case of a Christian football coach suspended for praying at the 50-yard line, to Christian business owners forced to pay a $135,000 fine for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, the number of troubling cases directed toward Christians has exploded.”

The group cited several other troubling incidents and concluded:

The Founders carefully and deliberately placed religious freedom as the first liberty because it encompasses several fundamental rights including thought, speech, expression, and assembly. The First Amendment explicitly grants freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The essential aim is to  protect the right of citizens to practice religion in the public square.

Decades of accumulated poor judicial decisions and precedents have twisted the First Amendment so that the courts, in defiance of the Founders, are pushing religion out of the public square, and into the small space of private expression. In essence, the courts are deciding that you only have full religious freedom and expression in the church and your home. In the public domain, your religious views and thoughts must be restrained and controlled.

This trend is extremely worrying in the country that has long held the ideal of religious liberty.

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