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Religious freedom is under fire both in America and around the world, and the U.S. is slacking on its moral obligation to defend it, according to a panel of experts on Tuesday.

“Protection of religious freedom has been at the heart and soul of the United States” for decades, said the Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea. “We’re seeing the greatest peril posed to religious freedom [globally] since the rise of Nazism and Communism. That is because of the rise of radical Islamist movements” all over the world.

“If you look at the global issues today, three of the deepest issues involve religion,” explained Christian thinker Os Guinness, who has authored and edited over thirty books. “Number one, will Islam modernize peacefully in the end? Number two, which faith or ideology will replace Marxism in China? ...And thirdly, will the West sever or recover its roots as a civilization?”

“Among a handful of issues that lie behind those three questions, religious freedom is absolutely pivotal.”

Guinness, who grew up in China and witnessed the brutal religious persecution of the Maoist regime firsthand, said “the things I saw as a boy are etched into my mind and heart,” and served to catalyze his lifelong efforts towards promoting religious liberty.

The panel was hosted by religious freedom nonprofit 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative (21CWI) during a press conference to debut its International Religious Freedom Congressional Scorecard, which will grade congressional members on a host of actions regarding the protection and promotion of religious liberty abroad and in the U.S. “The scorecard measures legislators’ prioritization of religious freedom,” reads the press release. The first results of the scorecard will be published by 21CWI in June 2016.

“Religious freedom everywhere is facing new challenges,” explained 21CWI Distinguished Senior Fellow and former Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), who lamented that 5.5 billion of the world’s people currently live under some form of religious persecution. “But it’s not just the Global South that faces the challenge; we see growing anti-Semitism in France, in other parts of Europe and even-and even-on American college campuses.” 2014 data from the FBI show that, of 1,140 hate crimes recorded the vast majority (nearly 57 percent) were motivated by anti-Semitic bias, while only 16.1 percent were motivated by anti-Muslim bias.

“All over the world, religious minorities are being persecuted by communal majoritarianism,” explained former Pakistani Parliamentarian Farahnaz Ispahani.

The United States has historically been seen as a beacon for religious freedom; it is unfortunate that there have been religiously-motivated attacks even in the United States in recent years. But the Constitution and the history of the United States make it the natural leader for the global struggle to protect religious freedom.

Ispahani currently lives in political exile from her native Pakistan, having been an advocate for the country’s return to democracy during the military regime of Pervez Musharraf and also having worked alongside the late Pakistani stateswoman Benazhir Bhutto before her 2007 assassination.

“I sincerely hope that the United States Congress and the Executive Branch will more actively implement an agenda to protect religious minorities internationally,” continued Ispahani.

It is important for the United States to stand up for those being targeted for their beliefs abroad. The current practice of ignoring violations of the principle of freedom of belief for strategic purpose neither serves US foreign policy objectives, nor does it represent America’s lofty principles.

One of the largest current religious freedom issues globally is that of the ongoing genocide of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities under ISIS. “The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has found in their 2015 report that the attacks… ‘are part of a systematic effort to erase their presence from the Middle East,” stated Mr. Wolf. “That’s genocide. That meets the Raphael Lemkin [originator of the term] definition of genocide.” 

Shea, who has worked extensively with various groups and individuals on the issue, described account after account of genocidal actions against religious minorities by ISIS militants.

Shea explained to the audience that an official designation by the U.S. government is important for several reasons, not least of which is America’s refugee process. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, only 53 Christians and “one lone Yazidi” have been accepted for refugee status in the United States. “This is a time when the administration is promising to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees,” said Shea, who lambasted for only accepting six Christians during the month of October, which comprises “less than one percent” of refugees from a country that was roughly 10 percent Christian at the beginning of the conflict.

Attentive to concerns that the scorecard might be perceived as a truncheon to use against legislators, 21CWI’s Communications Director Lou Ann Sabatier clarified, “This is not a punitive tool. We want them to win; this is not whack-a-mole.” The metrics were originally developed a couple of years ago by Lindsay Vessey of Coptic Solidarity and the Venn Institute with assistance from former Santorum Chief of Staff Mark Rodgers and State Department Special Advisor Knox Thames before eventually landing at 21CWI last year.

Nate Madden is a Staff Writer for Conservative Review, focusing on religion and culture. He previously served as the Director of Policy Relations for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. A John Jay Fellow, Citadel Parliamentary Fellow and National Journalism Center alumnus, Nate has previously written for World Magazine, The Washington Times, Catholic News Service, Patheos, Ethika Politika, and The Christian Post. Follow him @NateMadden_IV