The United States was founded on the premise that all individuals are created equal, with certain unalienable rights. Throughout our history, Americans have fought and died for these rights. They are ingrained in the fabric of our society and regularly debated, whether in coffee shops on Main Street or the halls of Congress.
Those fundamental rights and freedoms are part of our national identity, but that’s not the case in other parts of the world. That’s why for more than a century, the United States has been a vocal supporter, not just rhetorically but financially, as well, of global humanitarian efforts.
Over the past two decades, religious persecution in China has become a larger and more pressing issue. The Department of State’s annual International Religious Freedom report has included the People’s Republic of China as a particularly concerning offender since 1999.
Disturbing reports have surfaced out of China of late detailing the imprisonment of Christian pastors, Bible burning, and demolishing of Christian churches. The Chinese government has rounded up more than one million Uighur and Kazakh Muslims into indoctrination camps. The state has long suppressed the freedom of Tibetan Buddhists, as well as those who practice Falun Gong.
The Chinese government has removed crosses from 1,200 to 1,700 Christian churches as of a 2016 New York Times report, and has instructed police officers to stop citizens from entering their places of worship. There have been violent confrontations between government authorities and worshipers, and communist leaders have implemented restrictions prohibiting children 18 years old and younger from participating in religiously-focused education.
A piece published in Forbes earlier this year describes how Chinese authorities have bulldozed homes belonging to Uighur Muslims, collected passports to restrict travel and collected Uighur DNA and fingerprints in order to track its own citizens.
Communist leaders in China try to explain away these abuses by reiterating their commitment to preserving the Chinese culture, a practice known as sinicization. Approximately 100 million people in China belong to religious groups that are outside what the Chinese government deems acceptable. That’s approximately 100 million people who are subject to persecution by communist leaders in China, and even those that practice an officially sanctioned religion have not been spared harassment. That persecution stems from religious differences and has spread to other areasof daily life, including the restriction of social media.
The United States doesn’t have the singular authority to stop the religious persecution occurring in China, but it can apply significant pressure to Chinese leaders by linking the need for religious freedom to the economic and political aspects of our bilateral relationship that are important to China. As China’s largest trading partner, the United States is in a powerful position to influence Chinese leaders and stand up for human rights. Fighting for religious liberty should be a central part of the United States’ relationship with China. Senator David Perdue and I, with a bipartisan group of senators, recently introduced a resolution condemning violence against religious minorities in China and reaffirming America’s commitment to promote religious freedom and tolerance around the world. It also calls on China to uphold its Constitution and urges the President and his administration to take actions to promote religious freedom through the International Religious Freedom Act of 1988, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, and the Global Magnitsky Act.
No matter where they live, everyone should be able to freely express their religious beliefs. The United States has been a beacon of freedom since before its founding. We must continue that tradition by doing what we can to promote human rights and freedoms both here and around the globe.