“Violent attacks on houses of worship are increasingly occurring globally, turning sacred and peaceful spaces into unimaginable sites of bloodshed,” said Tony Perkins, Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, known as USCIRF, at a recent hearing the Commission held in Washington.
Mr. Perkins pointed to the recent massacres directed at worshipers of multiple faiths in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and Germany, as well as others in Egypt, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
He noted that cemeteries, monasteries, and community centers sacred to religious communities and their activities have also been targeted:
“Gravestones of Jewish people have been defaced with swastikas; Buddhist educational centers have been bulldozed; crosses have been torched. No faith is immune.”
USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin also warned of more covert and insidious tactics aimed at religious groups, including maliciously surveilling holy sites; stalling official registrations; and illegally seizing places of worship:
“For example, in May this year, Iranian intelligence agents changed the locks to a one hundred year-old Assyrian Presbyterian church in Tabriz, Iran and removed the cross from the building. Although the cross was eventually restored, the congregation is still not permitted to worship in this church.”
Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, commented on President Donald Trump’s September announcement during the Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom event that the U.S. will dedicate an additional $25 million to protect religious sites and relics:
“We envision this new funding helping to rebuild areas that have been attacked and damaged by foes of religious freedom. We hope that these funds will also be used to help communities learn best practices to protecting people of faith as they worship.”
The Ambassador concluded: “If we can find the right way to do this, in an inclusive, engaging manner, I think we’re going to find a lot of support around the world.”