Persecution of Christians remains on the rise in Western culture, according to a report by the Family Research Council. The organization analyzed open-source documents, reports, and media coverage to identify religious freedom violations perpetrated by Western governments against Christian individuals, organizations and churches in 34 countries, FRC writes on its website.
The group was able to identify 168 incidents across 16 Western countries between January 2020 and December 2023.
"The report is not exhaustive, but it offers valuable insights into the diverse ways Western governments – which ought to be the standard-bearers for upholding freedom of religion and expression – are undermining the fundamental human right to religious freedom," FRC writes.
Included in the four-year coverage window is the COVID-19 pandemic when many churches temporarily halted attendance at regular gatherings in favor of online worship options.
The pandemic looks as though it's been a springboard to greater interference, Arielle Del Turco, the director of the FRC's Center for Religious Liberty, said on Washington Watch Wednesday.
"COVID gave governments an excuse to use their power to squeeze churches. It gave bad political leaders an excuse to go after Christians for whatever reason," she told host Tony Perkins. "Now we're seeing censorship and attacks on free speech being a primary issue where we're seeing Western governments specifically go after Christians and violate their religious freedom."
The Western approach of attacking speech and thought is what Pope Francis calls "polite persecution," according to the Catholic News Agency.
The FRC report mirrors a June 2023 report by the Catholic group Aid to the Church in Need which highlighted such trends in Europe and the Americas. The ACN and FRC reports both highlight Christians fired from professional jobs for refusing to use preferred pronouns and restrictions on religious gatherings during COVID.
Edward Clancy, the ACN-USA director of outreach, told the Catholic News Agency that French laws that restrict religious symbols in certain public places are another example.
'Hot button' cultural issues are at the core
Del Turco says in the West, persecution of Christians often centers around social issues.
"The core issues are going to be homosexuality, speaking out against gay marriage, speaking out against transgenderism. Even in the United States, we've seen people fired for refusing to use preferred pronouns for students," she explained.
"And on abortion, we've seen people in the United Kingdom silently praying outside of abortion facilities and the police come and asking them what they're doing. 'Are you praying?' If you respond, 'Maybe' – as one woman, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce did; she was arrested for that. It is these hot-button cultural issues when Christians go against the secular orthodoxy [for which] they're going to get punished," she added.
Vaughan-Spruce, a pro-life advocate, has twice been arrested for praying silently near an abortion clinic in Birmingham, England.
On the positive side, Del Turco said she does see evidence of growing pushback from Christians in the West.
"People often think about the worst-case scenarios in China or Iran where people are imprisoned or killed in Nigeria, but we would be remiss to ignore what's happening in the West," she concluded.
"It not only affects us, but it also affects our ability to advocate for those around the world. If there's no religious freedom in the West, there's no one to speak up for the Persecuted."