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Legal Docket: Religious liberty around the world


WORLD Radio - Legal Docket: Religious liberty around the world

Cases of religious liberty and freedom of speech in India, Nigeria, Germany, and the United Kingdom

Activists of Minority Youth Federation protest in Manipur, in Kolkata, India, July 22. Bikas Das via The Associated Press

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today: international cases of interest. And for that, legal correspondent Jenny Rough is here to help us out.

Good morning, Jenny!

JENNY ROUGH, REPORTER: Hi, Mary and Nick. Good morning!

So I started by checking in with a specialist in international cases: a lawyer by the name of Elyssa Koren. She’s with Alliance Defending Freedom International.

To hear her tell it: The global casework is very different from what we’re used to in the U.S.

ELYSSA KOREN: Human rights abuse. Human rights abuse is one of the great mysteries I think of any age. It's not unique to the modern age. But it’s a power quest, ultimately.

The Republic of India is one of many places currently experiencing a human-rights abuse crisis. That might not be the first country that jumps to mind. After all, India’s constitution provides the freedom for all individuals to profess and practice their religion.


KOREN: One of the most insidious things that you see in India is anti-conversion laws, where essentially it's very, very difficult for people to convert. You have to jump through tremendous hurdles in order to choose and change your faith.

Almost a dozen of India’s 28 states have passed these anti-conversion laws.

An individual who tells another person about who Christ is and what Christ has done can be found guilty of a crime.

KOREN: So you could be guilty of falsely inducing someone into converting to the Christian faith by inviting them to a Sunday service, or just inviting them over to your house and telling them about Jesus or saying prayers with them.

REICHARD: Manipur is a state in the northeast of India. It has no anti-conversion law yet, but there is a push to bring one in. And recently, an ongoing conflict between two ethnic tribes has escalated into violence, arson, and death.

The conflict is a land ownership dispute between a largely Hindu tribe and a predominantly Christian one. The Christian minority faces grave hostility.

The European Parliament in its plenary session earlier this month, drew attention to the crisis. Here’s German member Sven Simon.

SVEN SIMON: [Speaking native language] Since May over 120 people were killed. Over 50,000 people are fleeing. Over 250 churches, theological institutions, Christian schools and hospitals have been burnt down.

Last week a video surfaced of a mob committing an unspeakably degrading and violent attack on two women from the Christian tribe. They were both stripped of their clothing and forced to walk along the streets where they were both molested. One of them was sexually assaulted by the mob.

ROUGH: The human atrocities continue with another radical mob agenda that has taken over parts of India. Hindutva which is different from Hinduism. It’s a political ideology that holds citizens aren’t fully, authentically Indian unless they ascribe to the national faith.

KOREN: Christians are persecuted. Any religious minority in India right now is under threat, threat to speak their beliefs, threat to carry on their life and their livelihoods.

ADF’s ally lawyers are working in-country to try to reverse these trends.

EICHER: Religious persecution is also happening in Nigeria. Yahaya Sharif-Aminu is a young Sufi musician who posted lyrics to one of his songs on WhatsApp.

KOREN: He was convicted of blasphemy for the crime of essentially sharing on WhatsApp, the messaging platform, WhatsApp lyrics that were deemed blasphemous toward the prophet Mohammed.

He sent the lyrics to a closed group of friends.

KOREN: Within a matter of hours that boy's note had circulated, and a mob found out about it. They congregated, they assembled at his house, they burnt down his childhood home, and he was arrested, convicted of blasphemy without a lawyer. So he was sentenced to die by hanging.

Like Nigeria, seven other countries’ blasphemy laws carry the death penalty with about 80, eight-zero, countries that have blasphemy laws on the books.

Sharif-Aminu appealed his case and the Supreme Court of Nigeria will hear it, but he’s still awaiting a date.

KOREN: And so what this case has the potential to do is to challenge the entire blasphemy structure and to say. You can't punish people for peacefully expressing their faith. You can't kill people for peacefully expressing their faith.

REICHARD: About four years ago, in 2019, WORLD reported on a case of a Christian homeschooling family in Germany: The Wunderlich family.

Homeschooling remains illegal in Germany.

KOREN: Their children were essentially taken away from them by the state, because of how dare they home educate their children.

Here’s the dad, Dirk Wunderlich, speaking to ADF in 2019:

DIRK WUNDERLICH: The authorities came here, 40 authorities, 40 persons, and took away our children, out of our home, and brought them into a foster home to school them.

The children were returned to the family, but when their case came before the European Court of Human Rights, the court affirmed the rights of the state. And an appeals court denied their appeal. The family has since left Germany.

ROUGH: Homeschooling refugees. And the legal battles over education in Germany continue. Like this current one about a Christian hybrid-school provider.

KOREN: The kids go to school some days, they stay home other days, they have a curriculum. They have good GPAs. So all the metrics are being fulfilled. They're following state criteria. And the state has essentially refused to accredit them, which will result in them not being able to function. And so we are taking this case to the court as well.

Arguing that the restrictions violate international and national law that parents are the first authority for their child’s education.

EICHER: Finally, thought crimes. In modern-day England, it’s now against the law to pray silently near an abortion facility.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce is a pro-life volunteer who helps women in crisis pregnancies.

KOREN: Her case was very interesting because she was praying within what the authorities termed a buffer zone, which is essentially a football field sized censorship zone around the facility where you're prohibited from doing a list of things.

Like praying silently.

Vaughan-Spruce thought she could avoid an accusation of harassment, by waiting until the facility was closed, standing before it, and praying. That didn’t work.

KOREN: She was arrested on the basis of her statement to the arresting officer that she might be praying inside her head.

Abortion opponents have different reasons for their opposition. In the case of Adam Smith-Connor, he paid for an abortion for his ex-girlfriend. And he regrets it now.

So, he, too, wants to offer silent prayer. And like Vaughan-Spruce, he did.

A policewoman questioned him.

KOREN: And he said, I'm praying for my son who died. And you can see in the footage, you can see a look of sympathy and remorse on her face. And then he says, from abortion. And then it just kicks off the whole process again where they're like, oh, brother, okay. This guy's violating the zone.

ROUGH: He was arrested not for the act, necessarily, but for his state of mind.

KOREN: Because it's not the fact that you're standing in that zone and praying, it's what you're praying about. It's literally going into people's thoughts and charging them criminally on the basis of what they're thinking about.

Both Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Adam Smith-Connor were completely exonerated. But global censorship is on the rise.

REICHARD: And it’s worth mentioning: The law in other countries does affect American jurisprudence.

One example is the Dobbs case that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Friend of the court briefs filed in that case pointed out that a lot of European countries that have abortion on demand regimes also have laws that are stricter than the Mississippi law. A 12-week limit versus 15.

KOREN: And so it was just kind of positioning the U.S. as this outlier and saying, look at the U.S. What they're doing is really radical and the rest of the world actually is more in line, not not doing it right obviously, but more in line with a more conservative approach on this issue.

ROUGH: And many of these free-speech cases are a good reminder that just because another person believes or expresses a different view, it doesn’t mean it’s a crime.

KOREN: We hear things that are offensive to our faith pretty much every minute of every day. You can't walk down the street without seeing things that are offensive, but as long as they're peaceful expressions and they're not inciting violence or coming after me for my Christian faith, we respect the right of the other to think differently from us and to espouse different beliefs and to articulate those beliefs There's laws and consequences in place when you're inciting violence, and that's a different matter entirely.

That’s this week’s Legal Docket. I’m Jenny Rough.

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