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I am reminded at least once every week that the ability to worship freely is a gift that many others don’t enjoy.

The reminder comes in the form of an e-mail from Forum-18, a religious rights watch group headquartered in Oslo, Norway, that focuses mainly on issues arising in eastern Europe and countries that were once part of the old Soviet bloc.

For example, this week I learned that people can get seriously roughed up for holding a religious service in a private home if they live in Azerbijan (just south of Armenia, near Turkey and Iran). Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other groups have been persecuted on a regular basis.

In Belarus, the government has stepped up pressure on the Baptist Council of Churches, an organization of Baptists who refuse to register with the government. Belarus is the only country in Europe to ban unregistered religious activity, according to Focus 18. A judge recently told the group the regulations were necessary “to protect citizens from “destructive
sects.”

In Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev recently called for the need to “suppress the activity of illegal religious movements.” He claimed that “tens of thousands of different missionary organisations work in Kazakhstan,” which is surely a bold exaggeration. “We don’t know their purposes and intentions, and we should not allow such unchecked activity,” he said. Sounds like Homeland Security, Kazakh style.

These issues are just a start: intolerance toward people of “non-preferred” faiths are subject to persecution in many countries that are more familiar than the ones I’ve mentioned above.

Other than pray and be thankful that “there but for the grace of God go I,” what can we do? Most of us are ill-equipped to strut into an embassy and demand change. One thing we can do is to support those who work actively to speak up for religious liberty around the world.

That’s one of many reasons I support the Baptist World Alliance, which is respected around the world and often speaks up for the cause of religious liberty.

And just think: In America, at least, we’re perfectly free to do so.

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