A new report from the Family Research Council, “Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Anti-Conversion Laws,” concludes that for the last 10 years, Christians “have been harassed in more countries, including the United States, than any other religious group.”
The report by FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty documents the impact worldwide of laws prohibiting leaving a religion, “blasphemy” and converting to another religion.
Travis Weber, Family Research Council’s vice president for policy and director of the Center for Religious Liberty, said that of the 75 countries listed in the report, 18 countries have apostasy laws, 72 have blasphemy laws and six have anti-conversion laws.
A total of 21 countries have two of the three types of laws.
“Apostasy laws, featured in much of the Muslim world, intend to punish those who convert away from Islam, blasphemy laws prohibit insults to religion, and anti-conversion laws prohibit people from converting from any faith to another. All these laws violate religious freedom,” FRC said.
“While the specific threats to religious freedom vary in type and intensity, one common source is the legal and cultural support for apostasy, blasphemy, and/or anti-conversion laws, which often threaten the freedom to choose and/or change one’s faith.
“While threats to religious freedom arise from other sources, these three types of laws and the cultural support behind them are major threats to the freedom to choose one’s faith–and thus to religious freedom worldwide,” it continued.
Punishment can range from marriage annulment, property confiscation and prison to the death penalty, which is enforced in Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
The Universal Declaration of Human rights in Article 18 states all have “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.”
The issue of apostasy laws was highlighted in the report by the story of Abdul Rahman, who in Afghanistan in 2006 converted from Islam to Christianity.
He was sentenced to death.
“There was an international outcry, due in no small part to the fact that the United States and others had investd much in Afghanistan and the new constitution was supposed to protect religious freedom,” the report explained. “Eventually, Rahman was released, ostensibly on procedural grounds. Yet Muslim clerics and others in Afghanistan still wanted him executed, and he had to flee to Italy.”
That dispute, the FRC report said, “demonstrated the seemingly untenable balance between a Western understanding of civil government and its protections for religious freedom, and Islamic law’s fusion with civil government and its requirement that apostasy be punished.”
Another case involved Pastor Raymond Koh of Malaysia.
He started a ministry to the needy, including Muslims, in 2004. In 2011, religious police raided a dinner and accused him of trying to proselytize Muslims, but the charges later were dropped.
“On February 13, 2017, Pastor Koh was abducted from his car in broad daylight just outside of Kuala Lumpur. In what appears to be a very coordinated operation, Koh’s vehicle was surrounded by three black unmarked SUVs. The kidnapping took less than a minute. A police sergeant allegedly shared in private with the wife of another man who had been kidnapped ‘that both men had been taken extralegally in a police operation.’ The sergeant also said the police kidnapped Pastor Koh ‘because he ‘apostatized’ Muslims.’ An official inquiry later concluded that a special police unit had kidnapped Koh. Pastor Koh has never been found.”
Many nations have blasphemy laws, the report found.
The report said some nations listed had laws that essentially were not enforced, but they couldn’t be dropped because they were being reactivated.
“Austria (a country where blasphemy is not regularly enforced) prosecuted an instance of blasphemy as connected to newly emerging tensions between Islam and Western European societies,” the report said.
There, a woman was convicted for characterizing Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, a possible pedophile.
“The European Court of Human Rights refused to overturn the conviction, instead deferring to the Austrian courts’ judgment that the statements ‘had not been part of an objective discussion concerning Islam and child marriage, but had rather been aimed at defaming Muhammad.'”
The report explained anti-conversion laws primarily are in Hindu and Buddhist regions of the world.
The laws ostensibly are to prevent people from being “tricked” into a religion. But in reality they suppress most comparisons of religion and prevent people from sharing their beliefs.