In China’s Zhejiang province, authorities are carrying out a campaign to remove crosses from thousands of church roofs, spires, and archways.
Under the purported justification of building code violations, more than a thousand crosses have reportedly been toppled or stripped away over the past year and a half. In addition, since 2014, more than 400 churches have reportedly faced partial or total demolition by the government claiming the buildings were “illegal structures.” The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent bi-partisan federal commission, noted that many Christian believers in Zhejiang regard the campaign to remove the crosses and raze churches as directly targeting their religion.
And they have not been silent about it. In July, Chinese Catholic officials described the dismantling of crosses on churches as “an evil act.” Christians took to the streets in protest in the southeastern city of Wenzhou. The Associated Press reported that in a rare move, China’s semiofficial Christian associations – which are supposed to ensure the ruling Communist Party’s control over Protestant and Catholic groups – denounced the campaign against the crosses, claiming it risks alienating Christians from the government.
Christians are not the only religious group targeted by officials in China. In its report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that in the past year there have been “unprecedented violations against Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists…and Falun Gong practitioners,” in addition to Christians.
Since 1999, the U.S. Secretary of State has designated China as a Country of Particular Concern for severe violations of religious freedom. In its most recently published report, the State Department said that despite a constitutional guarantee that Chinese citizens enjoy “freedom of religious belief,” the “government harassed, assaulted, detained, arrested, or sentenced to prison a number of religious adherents for activities reported to be related to their religious beliefs and practices.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has called freedom of religion “a universal value…ingrained in every human heart.”
He also pointed out that “[w]hen countries undermine or attack religious freedom, they not only unjustly threaten those whom they target; they also threaten their country’s own stability.”
The United States continues to call on all countries, including China, to live up to their international human rights commitments regarding religious freedom, and allow their citizens the full exercise of this fundamental right and moral imperative.