Deadly COVID Discrimination against the Elderly in Sweden

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell speaks at a daily news conference on the coronavirus situation in Stockholm, Sweden, June 8, 2020.(Andres Wiklund/via Reuters)

We have seen how the most vulnerable to death from COVID have been abused in this country with, for example, New York and other states’ ordering infected COVID patients to be admitted to nursing homes, spreading the disease.

But this is even more awful. Reports out of Sweden say that elderly COVID patients there were not only denied life-sustaining treatment at hospitals, but in some cases, were pushed over the edge into death in nursing homes. From the Bioedge story:

The health authorities have received many complaints about how elderly relatives were treated. A consistent theme is that nursing home residents with suspected Covid-19 were immediately placed on palliative care and given morphine and denied supplementary oxygen and intravenous fluids and nutrition. For many this was effectively a death sentence.

“People suffocated, it was horrible to watch. One patient asked me what I was giving him when I gave him the morphine injection, and I lied to him,” said Latifa Löfvenberg, a nurse. “Many died before their time. It was very, very difficult.”

How could that happen?

The problem seems to have been the guidelines issued by the National Board of Health and Welfare. At the start of the pandemic it suggested that doctors triage patients according to their so-called biological age, weighing overall health and the prospects for recovery, before making treatment decisions…

The idea was to keep hospital ICUs from being overwhelmed by older patients with a low chance of survival. However, the surge never happened. Instead, the elderly were denied access to unused facilities. “These guidelines have too often resulted in older patients being denied treatment, even when hospitals were operating below capacity,” according to critics who spoke to the WSJ. “Occupancy in the country’s intensive-care units, for instance, has yet to exceed 80%, according to government officials.”

That devolved into active killing:

Yngve Gustafsson, a geriatrics specialist at Umea University, told the BMJ that the proportion of older people in respiratory care nationally was lower than at the same time a year before, even though people over 70 were the worst affected by Covid-19. He, too, was aghast at the practice of doctors prescribing a “palliative cocktail” for sick older people in care homes over the telephone.

“Older people are routinely being given morphine and midazolam, which are respiratory-inhibiting,” he told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, “It’s active euthanasia, to say the least.”

That’s what happens when there is an explicitly invidious health-care rationing policy. The nuances get lost and the discriminated-against population are deemed better off dead.

“Incessant killing more dangerous than Coronavirus”: report on Nigeria to UK Parliament

Women in the aftermath of violence in Agatu, Benue, Nigeria in February 2016.
Women in the aftermath of violence in Agatu, Benue, Nigeria in February 2016.

“The incessant killing is more dangerous than Coronavirus”

…The words of a community leader in central Nigeria – after coronavirus had reached his country – after an April attack in which nine people died, including a pregnant woman and her three year old.

His reaction is one of several testimonies – frequently harrowing to read, let alone to have experienced – that feature in an Inquiry into the scale of death and destruction caused by conflict occurring along the Christian-Muslim faultline running across the ‘Middle Belt’ of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.

The Inquiry is published today, 15 June, by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief of the UK Parliament; it has been taking evidence since autumn 2018.

(However, since the Coronavirus pandemic, violence appears to have grown even as international media have been otherwise occupied).

“APPG members have been alarmed by the dramatic and escalating violence in Nigeria characterised as the farmer-herder conflict. This violence has manifested along ideological lines, as the herders are predominantly ethnic Fulani Muslims and the farmers are predominantly Christians. There has been significant debate about what factors are driving and exacerbating this crisis. Therefore, the APPG launched a parliamentary inquiry to help develop a nuanced understanding of the drivers of violence”.

The resulting report ‘Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?’ points out that the violence has claimed the lives of thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more. It has caused untold human and economic devastation and heightened existing ethno-religious tensions. “The [age old farmer-herder] conflict has evolved from spontaneous reactions to provocations and now to deadlier planned attacks” it quotes the International Crisis Group as saying.

Despite the scale of the violence, the conflict is much less well known internationally than the 10 year long Boko Haram insurgency which has claimed over 30,000 lives (112 Chibok girls are still ‘missing’ after 6 years) and now its offshoot Islamic State West African Province’s (ISWAP) atrocities. These also feature in the APPG report and appear to have escalated in recent weeks and months. (In the latest Boko Haram-linked incidents this past week, over a hundred have died and hundreds more been injured; a UN humanitarian hub and a police station were reported burned down).

However, this APPG report echoes the Global Terrorist Index (GTI) 2019 by the Institute for Economics and Peace, which indicates that the primary driver of the increase in violence in sub-Saharan Africa is a rise in activity in Nigeria attributed, not to Boko Haram, ISWAP or Ansar ul Islam, but to Fulani militant extremists. In 2018, it appears Fulani extremists were responsible for the majority of terror-related deaths in Nigeria.

Its geographical footprint is also larger, with conflict manifesting in more States.[1] According to global NGO, Search for Common Ground (SfCG), “between 1 January 2019 and 1 January 2020, inter-communal violence represented the most severe threat to civilian lives in Nigeria.”[2]

In his report for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office a year ago, the Bishop of Truro concluded “the religious dimension is a significantly exacerbating factor” in clashes between farmers and herders and “targeted violence against Christian communities in the context of worship suggests that religion plays a key part.”[3]

The Nigerian Government’s attempts to resolve the ethno-religious conflict have been ineffective; there seems to be no end in sight. The long-term consequences of failure to reduce the violence are severe, says the Inquiry: “There is the enormous cost in terms of human lives but there is also the potential for economic collapse, famine, further mass displacement of civilians and even more conflict, as the two major religious groups in the country become increasingly polarised”.

The Inquiry has taken evidence from a wide range of institutions, people and global NGOs, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the UK government, experts from Oxford University, the BBC, Search for Common Ground, Mercy Corps, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the Institute for Economics and Peace, Open Doors, Christian Solidarity International and many more. Nigerian expertise included a former Deputy Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank, the Muslim Public Affairs Centre Nigeria, the National Christian Elders Forum and the Forum on Farmer and Herder Relations in Nigeria.

This Inquiry found that Nigerian Christians experience devastating violence, with attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herders resulting in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands. The exact death toll is unknown. However, one NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust – whose founder is Co-Chair of the APPG – quotes reliable reports that over 1,000 Christians were killed between January-November 2019, in addition to the estimated 6,000+ deaths since 2015.

The Inquiry acknowledges that there are multiple difficulties in capturing all available data and then verifying it, including inability to access areas in the aftermath of violence due to security concerns. World Watch Monitor’s former Africa Bureau Chief witnessed to the Inquiry on this from our reports on Nigeria over many years; for instance often early counts of victims are heavily under-reported by official sources. 

These restrictions have been exacerbated by the Coronavirus crisis.

The Inquiry report notes that sometimes misinformation and even, occasionally, active disinformation can exacerbate the ability to gather credible reports from both sides of the ethnic-religious divide. The widespread use of social media without checking also contributes to violent incidents.

In February 2019, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom published a report on “Central Nigeria, Overcoming Dangerous Speech and Endemic Religious Divides” which contributed to the US State Department in later 2019 putting Nigeria on its ‘Special Watch’ List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

The APPG Inquiry quotes Mercy Corps’ report that this ethno-religious violence is costing the Nigerian economy £10.5 billion per year.[1]

It also acknowledges that the underlying causes of the herders-farmers conflict are deeply-rooted and complex.

Rapid population growth, climate change and desertification have decreased the water available for land and grazing and put pressure on resources. The UN estimates that “roughly 80% of the Sahel’s farmland is degraded [and] the land available to pastoralists [herders] is shrinking… Declining grain and food production is forcing pastoralists into a desperate search for fertile pasture.”[2] As herders travel further distances in search of water and land for grazing, they come into conflict with local farmers, who accuse the herders of encroaching onto their land and damaging their crops. Poor management of resources, urban growth, encroachment onto traditional grazing routes used by herders and land grabs by elites increases the pressure on land and resources.

The rise in conflict has strained the capacity of traditional leaders to reduce tensions and resolve conflict amicably. This has contributed to the breakdown of historical dispute settlement mechanisms and conflict turning to violence. The level of this violence has already reached international attention.

On 26 February 2019, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice censured the inadequacy of the Nigerian Government’s efforts to protect citizens and investigate acts of violence involving farmers and herders. The court ordered the government to investigate the killing of about 500 people and the destruction of properties committed by Fulani herders in the AgatuCommunity in Benue State in 2016. The court stated that the Government “is obliged to protect the human rights of its citizens” and ordered the Government to identify and prosecute the perpetrators and redress the victims.[3]

The Co-Chair of the APPG, Baroness Cox argues: “While the underlying causes of violence are complex, the asymmetry and escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani militia upon these predominately Christian communities are stark and must be acknowledged. Such atrocities cannot be attributed just to desertification, climate change or competition for resources, as [the UK] Government have claimed.”[4]

Vice Chair Lord Alton of Liverpool said: “Some local observers have gone so far as to describe the rising attacks as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing. Armed with sophisticated weaponry, including AK47s and, in at least one case, a rocket launcher and rocket-propelled grenades, the Fulani militia have murdered more men, women and children in 2015, 2016 and 2017 than even Boko Haram, destroying, overrunning and seizing property and land, and displacing tens of thousands of people. This is organised and systematic.”[5]


The APPG’s Inquiry report is dedicated to Leah Sharibu, who at the age of 14 was abducted in 2018 by Islamist extremists from her school in Dapchi, north-east Nigeria. She was raped and impregnated, giving birth to a child, and has been denied her freedom for refusing to convert to Islam. Her case, while extreme, is symptomatic of the wider treatment of some Christian women and girls in northern Nigeria, to which President Buhari’s government apparently turns a blind eye, even when a State Governor is caught on video coercively converting a young teenager to Islam.  

Leah Sharibu, at age 14, was abducted by Boko Haram on 19 February 2018. (Photo from family)Leah Sharibu, aged 14, was abducted by Boko Haram 19 February, 2018. (Photo from family)







Footnotes are references in the APPG Inquiry report on Nigeria:

[1] Emmanuel Ogebe, ‘Rivers of Blood on The River Benue Parts 1& 2: Consolidated Human Rights Fact-Finding Report on Killings by Herdsmen in Nigeria’s Benue State In 2018’ (2018).

[2] Katie Smith, Analysis of ACLED Data, Search for Common Ground, Email Conversation with APPG Director, 24 Feb 2020.

[3] Rt. Rev. Philip Mounstephen Bishop of Truro, ‘Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of the FCO Support for Persecution Christians’ (2019). Available at:


1] Andras Beszterczey, Testimony to APPG FoRB Inquiry, Mercy Corps, 22 November 2018.

[2] Robert Muggah and José Luengo Cabrera, ‘The Sahel is Engulfed by Violence. Climate Change, Food Insecurity and Extremists are Largely to Blame,’ World Economic Forum, 23 Jan 2019. Available at:

[3] The Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice, Rev. Fr. Solomon Mfa et al. v Federal Republic of Nigeria et al., Judgment No. ECW/CCJ/JUD/06/19, 26 February 2019, 29. Available at:

[4] House of Lords Hansard, 7 January 2020, col.123

[5] House of Lords Hansard, 28 June 2018, cols.284-285


Exclusive: Man Tried To Share His Regrets About Transgender Life. YouTube Censored It


‘Our hate speech policy prohibits videos which assert that someone’s sexuality or gender identity is a disease or a mental illness,’ YouTube said in a statement.

Information provided exclusively to The Federalist shows YouTube removed a Heritage Foundation video featuring testimony from a former transgender-identifying woman for violating the company’s hate speech policy. YouTube confirmed the decision in a Thursday email to The Federalist.

Now Heritage is fighting back with a new video, released first to The Federalist, in which Federalist contributor Walt Heyer doubles down.

“I said that children suffering from gender dysphoria should not be encouraged to try experimental hormones in surgery, and I stand by that statement,” Heyer emphasizes. The seven-minute clip, which Heritage will publish on YouTube, includes footage of Heyer’s remarks from the original panel, with the allegedly hateful six-word violation bleeped like a curse word.

The panel, convened last October, was billed as a “Summit on Protecting Children from Sexualization.” Heyer lived as a transgender-identifying woman for eight years, explaining on his website,, “I detransitioned more than 25 years ago. I learned the truth: Hormones and surgery may alter appearances, but nothing changes the immutable fact of your sex.”

Heyer now works as an activist against the kind of medical advice that led him astray, contributing, for instance, many pieces to this publication.

“I stand before you with a mutilated body, with a life that was destroyed in many ways, redeemed by Christ certainly, but destroyed because I was affirmed and told how cute I look, how wonderful it was. And went to a gender therapist who said, ‘All you need to do is have hormones and reassignment surgery,” Heyer shared in the Heritage video removed from YouTube, re-uploaded this week with an emphasis on the website’s censorship.

In an email to The Federalist, YouTube passed along a statement that reads, “Our hate speech policy prohibits videos which assert that someone’s sexuality or gender identity is a disease or a mental illness. We quickly remove videos violating our policies when flagged by our users.”

YouTube pointed to a clause in its updated hate speech policy, which the company claims was developed with bipartisan input. The policy prohibits videos which “Claim that individuals or groups are physically or mentally inferior, deficient, or diseased based on any of the attributes noted for the purpose of inciting hatred. This includes statements that one group is less than another, calling them less intelligent, less capable, or damaged.”

The company also pointed to Heyer’s claim in the original video that individuals are “not born transgender. This is a childhood developmental disorder, that adults are perpetrating on our young people today, and our schools are complicit in this.”

Heritage appealed YouTube’s decision. In a phone conversation with Google and YouTube representatives, Heritage Director Emilie Kao argued Heyer’s definition of gender dysphoria was consistent with the definition provided by the DSM-V.

In a statement to The Federalist, Kao said, “There are plenty of YouTube videos on this topic that address gender dysphoria as the American Psychological Association does, which is to classify it as a mental disorder.”

“But,” she added, “YouTube has decided, under the guise of ‘hate speech,’ to censor the viewpoint that it doesn’t like. This won’t help children and families struggling with this disorder who want information from both sides of the debate.”

Heritage Vice President Rob Bluey called the move “another illustration of how the left will stop at nothing to silence conservative voices on sensitive topics like gender dysphoria.”

“Rather than engage in nuanced, good-faith discussions with people who have experienced gender dysphoria, YouTube wants to censor any viewpoint it doesn’t like—even if advocates of transgender ideology say the exact same banned phrase in other videos,” Bluey continued.

More than any major tech platform, YouTube sometimes allows voices shut out of the mainstream media to speak openly on controversial issues, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions. Much of the company’s success is based on its willingness and ability to host these conversations.

Whether or not YouTube applies its policy unevenly, the language is sufficiently broad and restrictive that it hampers mainstream proponents of one side from fairly participating in the debate. That’s troubling because children’s lives are on the line, and their futures depend on our ability to allow reasonable people to share their experiences in good faith so we can navigate these difficult waters.

As Heritage’s video plainly shows, Heyer has a compelling story to tell. His lived experience should be available as an obviously relevant contribution to the broader discussion. It is certainly not rooted in hate. Those inside YouTube and among its potential critics do everyone a disservice by pushing for hate speech policies that categorize reasonable dissent as intolerable bigotry.

Watch Heritage’s new video below.


Religious persecution is engulfing the world

Religious freedom conditions in China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, and many other countries fail to meet basic international human rights standards. This led Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to decry the “great darkness over parts of the world where people of faith are persecuted or denied the right to worship.” This dire report comes on the heels of a historic directive issued by the Trump administration to advance religious freedom’s standing in U.S. foreign policy.

The State Department’s latest report points to China as a global leader in religious freedom violations. In 2019, Christians, Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners all found themselves victims of the Chinese government’s continued campaign against religion.

The report noted that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forces state-affiliated religious institutions to insert government propaganda into their teachings. Meanwhile, the CCP shuts down unregistered houses of worship altogether. The U.S. government estimates that China arbitrarily detains over one million Uyghurs due to their faith and ethnic identity. The Chinese government will go to great lengths to suppress religious belief, leading Secretary Pompeo and other U.S. officials to label China’s oppression a “war on faith.”

The State Department’s report also recognized mounting inter-religious violence in Africa. The last year saw Muslim Fulani militants commit many violent attacks on Christians. The terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) brutally attacked both Christians and Muslims in large numbers. A surge in violent attacks has occurred in recent months.

Pakistan continues to be a dangerous place for religious minorities. The report noted complaints against the Pakistani justice system, which regularly fails to bring perpetrators of violence against religious minorities to justice “due to a lack of follow-through by law enforcement, bribes offered by the accused, and pressure on victims to drop cases.” There continues to be reports that young Christian and Hindu girls were kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and forced to marry their captors. Societal discrimination against Christians and the enforcement of blasphemy laws continue to make life difficult for Pakistan’s impoverished Christian communities.

As religious believers encounter intimidation and danger in so many parts of the world, the United States is well-positioned to advocate for change. The U.S. has benefited immensely from the “first freedom” enshrined in our First Amendment and cherished by our Founders. But religious freedom is not only for Americans — it is a human right owed to all people, and it benefits everyone when religious freedom is respected. Countries that embrace religious freedom are more secure and make stable trading partners, which promotes regional economic growth. The United States’ role in advancing religious freedom as a fundamental human right contributes to a safer and more prosperous world.

To their credit, the Trump administration has paid attention to the plight of religious communities around the world. On June 2, President Trump signed a historic executive orderdedicated to promoting religious freedom, pledging that “the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom.” The order requires the prioritization of religious freedom in the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). U.S. officials have, at times, referred to religious freedom as a foreign policy priority, but their statements have often lacked teeth. Now, per the executive order, the State Department and USAID must develop a plan to implement it within 180 days. Under the Trump administration, religious freedom is getting the attention it deserves.

The State Department’s latest report indicates global religious freedom conditions are deteriorating, and this compels us to act quickly and efficiently. President Trump’s executive order was an important first step, but there is still much more to be done. As the State Department and USAID look to implement this order, they should fully embrace all possible options for promoting religious freedom abroad and protecting religious communities. In many countries, repressive governments have effectively silenced religious minorities from speaking up to defend themselves, but the United States has the opportunity to speak up on their behalf. If implemented correctly, President Trump’s executive order will enable U.S. diplomats to do just that.


Religious Freedom Lessons from COVID-19 Disputes

After almost three months of COVID-19-related closures, thousands of congregations of all faiths can gather again in person because state or local orders have expired or relaxed. The situation is complex. Congregations still face restrictions like size limits or social distancing rules; in some places, the restrictions remain severe. Out of safety concerns, many congregations that are free to gather will stay online.

And a surge in cases in some places is causing communities to rethink their plans.

Restrictions on in-person worship have been divisive in the general public and within congregations. Those challenging the restrictions have often accused the government of devaluing religious practice. The challengers have often been accused of ignoring the common good.

While many churches are free to resume their gatherings, the questions and disputes around government restrictions during a pandemic remain. As a legal scholar and religious liberty advocate (Thomas Berg) and a law student and church leader (Shawna Kosel), we believe examining the legal principles and convictions at play will help us extend grace to those on both sides of the latest religious freedom disputes. It’ll also provide a better understanding if the virus spikes again and strict restrictions on worship return.

Religious Freedom Considerations

In their early weeks, state orders prohibiting worship were relatively strict across the board, prohibiting a wide range of in-person activities. But as states began to open up, they allowed more activities like in-restaurant dining and “personal services” (hair salons, tattoo parlors, and barbershops). Both of those bring people into close proximity for extended time periods, two of the significant factors that make worship services risky for coronavirus transmission.

If government restricts worship but allows activities presenting similar risks, that can amount to a religious freedom violation in two ways.

One is under the Supreme Court’s First Amendment doctrine, which says that government can restrict religious practice if, and only if, the law in question is “religion-neutral and generally applicable.” According to several court decisions, a law restricting religion fails the general-applicability standard, even if it doesn’t target religion alone, if it allows other activities that cause similar harms.

The second is that under both federal and state rules, government can restrict religious conduct if can prove the restriction is necessary to serving a “compelling” governmental interest (like public health). It’s difficult to prove that restricting religion is a compelling necessity if activities causing similar harms are allowed.

Candidly, we see downsides when churches assert their rights aggressively by pointing to other activities that the government has allowed. Such assertions can intensify an unhealthy sense of grievance among Christians. They can play into the “what-aboutism” that often makes it difficult to establish any agreement in public debate today.

But equal treatment is also an element of intuitive fairness, and an important means of guaranteeing liberty. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson once wrote, “[N]othing opens the door to arbitrary action so effectively as to allow [government] officials to pick and choose only a few to whom they will apply legislation, and thus to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon them if larger numbers were affected.”

Not only have a wide range of entities opened up, but in the last two weeks cities nationwide permitted large, crowded protests, complete with chanting and singing, exceeding the limits that COVID orders generally place on “mass gatherings.” The protests’ message challenging racism and police brutality is crucial—and often religious. But regulation must rest on the activity’s riskiness, not on the content of its message. Admittedly, the protests were outside, and their grassroots nature would’ve made stopping them impossible. But congregations have already begun to argue that declining to enforce health rules strictly to stop protests means you cannot invoke them strictly to stop worship.

How Courts Have Ruled So Far

As states and cities “open up,” more have permitted in-person worship with limitations. One survey reports that 31 states have no statewide prohibitions on in-person worship, 11 have prohibitions similar to those for other activities, and 9 restrict worship more severely. Some closure orders expired when a new reopening phase began, but others ended only because of actual or threatened litigation.

Many but not all local restrictions have been lifted too. Last week, after a threatened lawsuit, Madison, Wisconsin, eliminated its provision restricting worship gatherings to 50 people (they are still limited to 25 percent of room capacity).

On May 29, the US Supreme Court refused a request by a church to block California’s order confining worship services to 100 people and 25 percent of capacity. Chief Justice John Roberts cast the decisive vote, writing that churches had been treated no worse than “comparable secular gatherings” such as “lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances.” He added that in the “dynamic” situation of a pandemic, judges should not “second-guess” elected officials on when to reopen.

The Court’s ruling presents a hurdle to litigation, but it won’t mean the end of it. The California church faced a stiffer standard than normal because it was seeking an emergency injunction. And the scope of the restrictions may make a difference. California successfully defended its 100-person limit, while Madison rescinded its 50-person limit.

Essential vs. High Risk

Many orders allowed “essential services” to continue (groceries, food takeout, banks, and health care), but omitted in-person worship from that category, instead classifying them with “mass gatherings” like theatre and spectator sports. The exclusion from “essential” activities is probably the element that most angered those who oppose the orders. Members of Shawna’s congregation were stung that during the weeks when in-person worship was barred, the flashing LED lights of the local liquor store read, “We are essential!”

The rationale for these classifications cannot be that worship services are “inessential.” The First Amendment, by explicitly protecting religious exercise, treats it as an important activity. Classifying worship with sports and entertainment should not reinforce the attitude that religion is one “hobby” among others, rather than part of the lifeblood of society. Churches can be a vital resource during this crisis, comforting people and educating, leading, and encouraging them in acts of compassion and self-sacrifice.

Putting in-person worship in the restricted category can only be based on the risks of transmission it creates. Those are real. In worship and other mass gatherings, as Chief Justice Roberts observed, “large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” longer than in most retail settings. Worship can also involve hugs and the sharing of sacraments or hymnals. And singing seems to propel respiratory droplets further. These factors justified tight restrictions on in-person worship in early weeks—although as already noted, that justification weakens when activities presenting similar risks are “opened up.”

There’s some perspective in knowing that similar disputes arose during the 1918 flu pandemic. In early October, churches in the District of Columbia complied with authorities’ official request to close, which soon became an explicit ban on even outdoor services. Three weeks later, with cases and deaths declining, the Protestant clergy federation sought permission to hold services on Sunday, October 27. One pastor argued that churches were “not a luxury, but a necessity” and should not be put “in the same class with poolrooms, dance halls, moving picture places, and theaters”; another said that “in quieting through strengthened faith in God the panic and fear in which epidemic thrives, the churches are potential anti-influenza workers.” The ban was lifted on October 29.

Congregations reassembled then, and they’re reassembling now. But the language of “essential” activities has created unnecessary resentment. In their phased reopening plans, many governors and mayors have instead focused explicitly on the relative risks that different activities pose. They should continue with that focus if they have to impose new restrictions in the fall.

Online alternatives?

Congregations have made creative use of livestreaming and recorded videos for online worship. But for legal purposes, that’s not a sufficient answer. Religious-freedom rules do require a claimant to show that a government action “substantially burdens” religious exercise—but substantial limits on in-person worship unquestionably meet that threshold. Civil courts are in no position to question the religious importance of meeting in person; such theological judgments are beyond judges’ authority.

Moreover, some people cannot participate in online services. At Shawna’s church, which is located an hour outside Minneapolis, 10 percent of the congregation lacks internet access. One congregant, who created masks for Shawna’s whole family, told Shawna she’d had no connection with worship for several weeks until drive-in services began recently.

One study estimates that 42 million Americans—including one-third of the population in rural areas—lack broadband access and, during the pandemic, are “being cut off even more from daily life, from doctor’s appointments to online worship services.” African American churches face disproportionate barriers: In a Pew survey, only 73 percent of black regular churchgoers said their churches had moved online, versus 84 percent of all regular churchgoers.

Conflicts Over Reopening

Congregations that are legally free to open still face multiple questions about whether and how it’s safe to do so. As a pastor’s spouse and a leader in her church, Shawna writes:

The considerations for reopening are staggering, and the members of our congregation and community have strong, clashing opinions about each. Our town’s ministerial association hoped to promote unity by opening all 13 churches on the same Sunday, but it quickly became clear that different congregations’ unique situations would make that impossible.

Our church had to remember our core values in deciding when and how to reopen. We are generationally diverse and put priority on doing church together. We constantly promote the gospel work of bearing with one another, loving each other by setting our preferences aside. We have not yet returned to our building, because the car service has been the most “together” we can be. More vulnerable people can keep their windows rolled up; kids can sit in lawn chairs near their cars. We are considering an evening prayer service tailored to vulnerable attenders. We’re glad we now have freedom to make those decisions.

We are praying for a resurgence of encouragement and patience, of understanding and hope as we move forward. Whether or not it’s called “essential,” the church is still committed to facilitating redemption, reconciliation, peace, mercy, justice, and love.

Thomas Berg is James Oberstar Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis.


ADF International Executive Director Reflects on Religious Freedom in Europe Today

‘We see more cases year on year, and this is, in part, because Christians are becoming more aware of what’s happening.’

K.V. Turley

One of the major challenges all governments face is to keep freedom and security in balance, a particularly trying task during times of crisis, such as the current pandemic. From its Vienna headquarters, Executive Director Paul Coleman oversees the advocacy and operations of the global alliance-building legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), and what he sees happening because of the shutdown resulting from attempts to stem the spread of coronavirus leaves him troubled.

Coleman is a solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales, specializing in international human rights and European law. He has been involved in more than 20 cases fighting violations of human rights brought to the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR]. In addition, he has written complaints and submissions to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the International Criminal Court, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and numerous national courts.

Coleman was part of the legal team in the 2011 case Eweida and others v. United Kingdom, where the court handed down a landmark ruling on religious freedom. In 2014, in the case of Gross v. Switzerland, Coleman submitted that no right to assisted suicide or euthanasia existed under the European Convention on Human Rights. In 2016, in F.G. v. Sweden he argued that European countries have a duty to protect Christian converts escaping persecution in their native countries. In the 2017 case of Nagy v. Hungary, he contended that churches must have the freedom to manage their internal affairs without interference from the government or other state bodies.

Coleman spoke via email to the Register last month about how religious freedom was faring during the pandemic lockdown.


How has religious freedom been impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown across Europe?

There have been unprecedented restrictions imposed across the continent, with many fundamental freedoms impacted, including freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of speech. Churches have been closed for months, and even small gatherings have been banned in many contexts. Weddings and funerals of almost any size have also been suspended.

Recently, the European Parliament adopted a resolution concerning the European Union’s response to COVID-19. Among other things, it stressed that “all measures taken at national and/or EU level must be in line with the rule of law, strictly proportionate to the exigencies of the situation, clearly related to the ongoing health crisis, limited in time and subjected to regular scrutiny.” If this same scrutiny had been applied when governments were initially deciding on restrictions to religious freedom, we may have seen more proportionate responses.

It looks like the situation is now starting to change. In some countries like Germany and France, legal challenges against the regulations banning religious gatherings have been successful. And other countries are seeing similar challenges filed. To better monitor this evolving situation, we have created an overview table of the state of religious freedom in Europe’s top 10 countries impacted by COVID-19.


Where in Europe have there been examples of state abuses in regards to these shutdown measures?

Perhaps the biggest challenge has been how most governments — as well as many Church leaders — have viewed the role of faith and the Church during this crisis. Many governments have been quick to open businesses, shops and restaurants — declaring shopping of various items to be “essential.” At the same time, religious worship has remained prohibited, even if the rules that govern shopping could be applied to church meetings. Sadly, with very few exceptions, religious leaders have accepted the relegated role of religion in public life.


Are there any examples of where this has been handled sensitively and with a view that freedom of worship is a human right?

Spain was relatively quick to allow religious gatherings to resume (providing social-distancing rules are followed) and has not applied rules to churches that do not apply to other areas of life. Similarly, in many Eastern European countries, religious worship has been able to continue throughout the lockdowns. On the other hand, the U.K. and Belgium have still not provided a fixed date for when churches can reopen, even while many other parts of society begin to open up.


Do you think the state has been too ready to step in and tell churches and others to cease from public worship? And too slow to allow churches to reopen?

I understand the almost-impossible position our leaders are in, responding to an unprecedented moment in modern human history. And, like many people, I accepted the temporary restrictions on religious freedom at the beginning of the lockdown for the sake of public health. However, the initial few weeks to “flatten the curve” messaging have turned into months of lockdown, with no immediate end in sight in many places. And we have seen many areas of society open up while churches have remained closed.

Although there are differences between countries, I think the overall reaction sacrificed religious freedom quicker and more greatly than some other areas of life, and I think that is more telling of our churches and culture than it is of our law.


In regard to freedom of worship and freedom of conscience, what are the main challenges for Christians in Europe today?

We see that, more and more, Christians face difficulties in their professions because of their beliefs. This is particularly the case in medical professions and in the service industry.

Medical professionals face sanctions from employers if they refuse to perform, supervise or in any way facilitate abortions or euthanasia. In Germany, a pharmacist was taken to court by the Chamber of Pharmacists for refusing to sell the “morning-after pill,” even though he said it contradicted his deeply held beliefs about when life begins.

The U.K. Ashers Bakery cake case will now be heard by the European Court of Human Rights. Similar to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in the U.S., the owners of Ashers Bakery happily serve all customers; they just don’t want to be forced to create all messages. A case like this has never before been heard by the court, and it will be precedent-setting.

But that is just one example. Across Europe we also see many challenges for Christian parents, Christian schools, challenging the freedom of Christians to express their deeply held beliefs in public.


A Finnish politician is being investigated by police on account of her support for traditional marriage — is this the thin end of the wedge?

The current police investigation of Päivi Räsänen is a very telling example. The Finnish parliamentarian is facing a two-year prison sentence for tweeting an image of some Bible texts last year and writing a pamphlet on marriage and sexuality 16 years ago. She hasn’t slandered anyone or encouraged violence in any way. And yet, because of her deeply held views, she faces a police investigation.

Yet even if the investigation is dropped or she is acquitted in court, the example being made of her still creates a chilling effect for wider society. I believe the way she is being treated is deliberately designed to create fear over saying certain things in public. Yet in a free society, everyone should be free to share their beliefs without fear of censorship or be subject to police investigation. Sadly, such cases are becoming all too common throughout Europe.

Freedom of speech is being threatened by so-called “hate-speech” laws all over Europe. Given the nature of these laws, it is usually opinions that are not in line with the status quo that end up being penalized and censored. Unfortunately, a number of Christian views — for example, on marriage and the family, as well as on the sanctity of life — currently fall into this category. Criminalizing speech through so-called “hate-speech” laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies.


The ECHR is the end point for many cases involving issues of religious freedom and conscience. In your opinion, is it a fair tribunal?

To provide the classic lawyer’s response to a hard question: “It depends.” On the one hand, the European Convention on Human Rights contains reasonably well-worded protections for a number of fundamental rights; and it is this document that the court is asked to interpret. On the other hand, over the last few decades, the court has started viewing the convention as a “living instrument” that can be reinterpreted over time based on what it calls “European consensus.” This allows the court to read new “rights” into the convention, as societal views begin to change in certain key areas. That means that the more viewpoints and actions are considered out of kilter with this “European consensus,” the less likely the court is to protect such views. In my opinion, this is antithetical to the principles of human-rights law, which are meant to protect minority views against the dominant majority.


Your work is mainly advocacy in courts. Have you seen a rise in cases concerned with freedom of religion over the last year? If so, is this a sign that Christians are getting better organized or that the state threat to the practice of Christian beliefs is increasing?

I think the answer is “Yes” to both questions. We are seeing more cases, year on year, and this is, in part, because Christians are becoming more aware of what’s happening. Therefore, organizations to help Christians are growing and becoming more organized in response to an increase in state overreach on fundamental freedoms.

                                                                                                                      K.V. Turley is the Register’s U.K. correspondent.


China’s ‘repression against all religions continues to intensify’, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says as report devotes section to Xinjiang’s Uygurs

  • The US State Department released a blistering assessment of China’s treatment of groups in a report on religious freedom
  • This year’s paper marked the second time the report has devoted a stand-alone section on Xinjiang

Owen Churchill in Washington, DC

Published: 5:03am, 11 Jun, 2020 

Updated: 5:36am, 11 Jun, 2020

Why you can trust SCMP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

The state of religious freedom in China has further deteriorated over the past year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, as his department unveiled a blistering assessment of the country’s treatment of religious groups.

China’s “state-sponsored repression against all religions continues to intensify”, Pompeo told reporters at the release of the “2019 International Religious Freedom Report”.

“The mass detentions of Uygurs in [the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region] continues, so does the repression of Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong and Christians,” said Pompeo, accusing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of seeking to “infuse communist dogma” into faith groups’ teachings.

Last year began with China’s formal adoption of a five-year plan to “Sinicise” Islam, a strategy to bring the religion and its practitioners in line with Party doctrine.

In 2019 the Chinese government had “tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison, subjected to forced indoctrination in CCP ideology, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices,” said the report, which devoted some 45,000 words to the situation in China.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the State Department’s report.

Among the many individual cases it cited, the report highlighted the prosecution of Wang Yi, a Christian pastor sentenced last December to nine years in prison on charges of inciting state subversion and other crimes.

Underground Christians use faith and tech to reach out at Easter

13 Apr 2020

The right to faith is enshrined in China’s constitution, which provides protection to those who practise “normal religious activities” but does not define “normal”. The state officially recognises only five faiths: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.

This year’s paper marked the second time the report has devoted a stand-alone section on Xinjiang, introduced last year “given the scope and severity of reported religious freedom violations” specific to the region. Previous reports singled out only Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau.

The US government believes that “more than one million” Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups have been detained in mass internment camps for the purpose of forced indoctrination since April 2017, said the report, echoing similar estimates made by the United Nations.

Throughout 2019, Beijing had continued to cite the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” to justify its crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang, the report noted, going on to highlight testimonies of individuals who had either been detained themselves or knew of relatives who had.

Among them was Zulhumar “Humar” Issac, a Uygur woman living in Sweden who believed her parents were sent to a camp for “re-education”, despite her mother being a Communist Party member and her father having worked for a Party-run local newspaper.

China has defended the mass internment camps as a humane and legitimate response to the threat of religious extremism, while a regional official said last summer that most detainees had “completed their study and found new jobs”.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Washington’s special envoy for international religious freedom said that the government had seen “no evidence” to support such claims.

US House passes Uygur Human Rights Policy Act

29 May 2020

“Even if they were released, they’re released into a virtual police state that China has created,” said Samuel Brownback, expressing concern that the deployment of hi-tech surveillance in Xinjiang offered a picture of “the future of what oppression is going to look like” in other parts of the country.

The US Department of Commerce has cited complicity in high-technology surveillance, arbitrary detention and forced labour among its reasons for adding multiple Chinese companies and government bodies to an expanding blacklist, restricting their ability to buy US products.

Wednesday’s report came as US President Donald Trump prepares to enact legislation that will compel the administration to sanction Chinese officials over the treatment of Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. Trump is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.

Religious freedom has become a foreign policy focus for the Trump administration, marked most recently by a presidential executive order last Tuesday directing the State Department to spend more money on programmes that advance religious freedoms abroad.

Trump issued the order amid growing allegations at home of disproportionate police force response to protests against racism and police brutality, and notably, outrage from faith leaders that authorities had used chemical agents the day before to clear a path for Trump to pose outside a church with a Bible.

Pompeo meets with 1989 Tiananmen Square activists at US State Department

5 Jun 2020

On Wednesday, Pompeo shot back at critics of the US administration, including officials in Beijing, who have questioned its moral authority to critique the human rights records of other countries overseas given such events.

“There is no equivalence between our two forms of government,” Pompeo said of the US and China. “We have the rule of law; China does not. We have free speech and embrace peaceful protests. They don’t. We defend religious freedom … China continues its decades-long war on faith.”

But Pompeo admitted that foreign governments had complained to his department that their countries’ correspondents covering the protests had been “treated inappropriately” by US law enforcement.

“Those countries should know we will handle [the allegations] in a completely appropriate way,” he said. “We will do our best to investigate them to the extent the State Department is capable of doing that.”


COVID-19: UN criticised for promoting abortion as an ‘essential service’

A senior US official has criticised the United Nations for using the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to promote abortion as an ‘essential service’.

John Barsa, head of the US Agency for International Development, told the UN to remove all references to “sexual and reproductive health” in its Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 (HRP).

Barsa said: “Most egregious is that the Global HRP calls for the widespread distribution of abortion-inducing drugs and abortion supplies, and for the promotion of abortion in local country settings.”


The official criticised the UN for “cynically placing the provision of ‘sexual and reproductive health services’ on the same level of importance as food-insecurity, essential health care, malnutrition, shelter, and sanitation”.

He said that the UN should not “intimidate or coerce Member States that are committed to the right to life” and use the pandemic “as a justification to pressure governments to change their laws”.

Barsa called on the organisation to “address the real needs of vulnerable people around the world” and “drop the provision of abortion as an essential component of the UN’s priorities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.”


In April, abortion activists were criticised for claiming that abortion should be classed as a public health issue during the coronavirus pandemic.

The CEO of abortion giant Marie Stopes International claimed it would be “immensely helpful as it would help countries to see abortion from a public health perspective”.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) called it “a repulsive but predictable attempt to use a global pandemic to further their anti-life, pro-abortion agenda”.


COVID-19 arrests for religious gatherings in Chile


  • Emergency measures filed with Inter American Commission on Human Rights
  • Human rights experts see no legal basis for prosecution

SANTIAGO DE CIHLE (9 June 2020) – ADF International filed a request for emergency cautionary measures with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights regarding the arrest and ongoing prosecution of Christian pastors for allegedly violating the COVID-19 health measures. Currently, there is no blanket ban of religious services and gatherings, only measures on how to prevent the spread of the virus. The pastors observed all existing measures. Previously, the health authorities were forced to reopen all Catholic churches after they had unlawfully locked them.

“Chile has a good track record when it comes to protecting religious freedom. This makes it all the more disappointing to see pastors, who adhered to the current COVID-19 measures when holding religious services, targeted by the health authorities and arbitrarily arrested. There is no ban on religious services and doing so would be a grave violation of the fundamental rights Chile is committed to in a range of international human rights agreements. Restrictions on religious gatherings and worship must be applied with equal severity to other restrictions on public life, not more,” said Tomas Henriquez, Director of Advocacy for Latin America & Caribbean for ADF International.

Chile’s religious freedom violations during the pandemic

At the outset of the corona virus pandemic, the Chilean government announced a state of emergency. In several regions, local governments issued orders specifically prohibiting religious activities. In the city of Los Ángeles in the Bio-Bio region, health authorities targeted the local Catholic Diocese, sealing up all churches. Although legal challenges to this measure were rejected by the courts, health officials nevertheless reversed course and withdrew the unlawful orders against worship after negative press coverage and public pressure – allowing church doors to open once more.

Now the same authorities who locked up Catholic churches arrested at least two pastors for holding allegedly illegal religious services. ADF International has called for an emergency intervention by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights ordering Chile immediately to halt the persecutory enforcement of this policy, to clarify its position with respect to religious gatherings, and to provide protection to leaders and attendees of religious gatherings from harassment.


Desperate Christians trading faith for food in corona crisis – human rights lawyer

A policeman stands guard outside St John’s Cathedral Church in Peshawar, Pakistan.Reuters

Some Christians in Pakistan have been left so desperate by the coronavirus crisis that they are converting to Islam in exchange for food, a human rights lawyer has said.

The lawyer, named only as Aneeqa A, a partner of ADF International, said that Christians were being denied emergency food aid in the pandemic.

“People have become so desperate that they are forced to trade their religion in exchange for food. They are forced to convert to Islam just for one sack of flour,” she said.

Pakistan is home to just over four million Christians – around 2% of the population.  They suffer severe persecution for their faith – Open Doors ranks the country fifth on its World Watch List of 50 worst countries to be a Christian – with threats including false accusations of blasphemy, assault, murder, rape, forced conversion and forced marriage.

ADF International, a religious liberty advocacy group, said the situation had worsened since the start of the pandemic.

“The current health crisis has made the injustices Christians experience even more numerous,” it said.

“Christians are forced to deny their faith simply to be able to feed their families.

“As the international community considers coronavirus aid responses, it should listen to the voices of the most vulnerable and protect minorities who would otherwise receive little to no help at all.”

The warning follows a report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in April in which it identified Pakistan as one of its “countries of particular concern”, citing “systematic, ongoing and egregious” religious freedom violations.

ADF International is calling on the international community to take action to protect religious freedom around the world. 

Last week, the organisation was one of the signatories of an open letter to the President of the European Commission calling for the mandate of the Special Envoy on religious freedom to be continued.

“We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are writing to applaud your commitment to universal human rights and the rule of law, and respectfully request that the EU continue to lead on the promotion of human rights throughout the world by continuing the mandate of the Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU,” the letter reads.

The letter goes on to state: “In the constellation of human rights, freedom of thought, conscience and religion plays a central role, as the basic ability of any human being to think and act according to his or her beliefs. However, these freedoms have come under increasing attack over the past decade.”

It continues: “The EU must stand strong and united in order to respond to these challenges. The EU must stand together in the face of these unprecedented attacks on universal human rights. With its Special Envoy, the EU has led in the international response, and that leadership is needed now more than ever.”