As President Signs Order Protecting Religious Liberty, Persecution Growing in the US

New data shows a disturbing trend in religious persecution.

By Tom Gilson Published on May 4, 2017

As President Trump signs an executive order protecting religious liberty a question bears asking: Are Christians being persecuted in the United States?

It’s a touchy question even to bring up. There is real persecution going on in other countries around the world, where churches are torched and Christians are dying for their faith. American Christians rightly shrink from comparing themselves to their brothers and sisters who are suffering so greatly for Christ.

On the other hand, I’ve been in enough conversations with unbelievers to know how they laugh at the idea. Christians are the ones with “privilege,” they say. “Atheists can’t get elected to political office. Christians who claim they’re being persecuted are just whiners.”

But Jesus himself placed the word “persecution” in the context of being reviled and lied about (Matthew 5:11). So it’s not reserved just for people who are dying for Him. Some American believers really are suffering, too. They’re being held liable for fortunes in civil court on account of following their conscience.

Religious Restrictions Rapidly Increasing

And there is now solid sociological data supporting the notion that Christians are losing their religious freedoms here in the United States. The Pew Research Center recently released an update to its annual report “Restrictions on Religion Among the 25 Most Populous Countries.” The study takes both governmental policy and social hostilities into account.

From 2007 to 2015, the U.S. remained in the lower-left quadrant where religion is least restricted in both those forms, as seen on the graphic at the Pew report web page — but not by much. Click through the dates on that graphic and you’ll see how far it’s been moving upward and to the right during that time. Meaning, the situation is getting worse.

In 2007 the U.S. scored in the Low range of government restrictions and the Low to Moderate range of social hostilities. By the end of 2015 it was in the Moderate to High range on both scales.

Two other countries moved a similar amount during that time. Italy’s restrictions on religion mirrored those of the U.S., while the United Kingdom moved from a starting point near that of the U.S. to a position where social hostilities rate as High to Very High, though with little increase in government restrictions.

Other than the U.S., Italy and the U.K., no other country on the chart has moved so far; no other country has seen such a spike in restriction on religion.

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It’s hard to think of any increase in government restrictions on Muslims here before the end of 2015, however, whereas examples of policies putting pressure on Christians are easy to recall.

Attitudes Toward Evangelicalism Not Keeping Pace

Meanwhile, another Pew Study shows that Americans view every religious group more warmly in 2017 than in 2014 — every group except evangelical Christians, that is. These ratings were based on a “feelings thermometer,” on which survey respondents could rate their feelings toward various religious groups.

Atheists and Muslims remained at the bottom of the “feelings” scale in America, but both groups’ position rose dramatically from 2014 to 2017. Evangelical Protestants were in fourth place among religious groups in 2014, behind Jews, Catholics and Mainline Protestants.

But there’s something that stands out about evangelicals remaining static at one position while all other groups’ feelings scores increased.

Not Just Anecdotes

So, are Christians in America under persecution? Not like they are in Russia, Egypt or India. But the heat on Christianity is increasing. We’ve known it well enough through the stories of people like Barronelle Stutzman and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

These Pew studies show that stories like these aren’t isolated anecdotes: The pressure really is building. If you as a Christian — and perhaps especially as an evangelical — are feeling it, you can bet it’s real. If you haven’t noticed the pressure yet, this trend suggests it may be coming your way sooner than you might expect.

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