Measures introduced to battle the coronavirus must not be used to undermine Christians’ fundamental rights and freedoms, a religious freedom charity is warning.
In recent weeks, some senior US public officials have been criticised for unfairly targeting churches with social distancing rules. Elsewhere, Christians have been put at risk after being blamed for the spread of COVID-19.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said that, while the organisation fully understands the need for countries to adopt extraordinary measures during this crisis, “we nevertheless urge them to ensure transparency and adhere to the rule of law”.
CSW said it is important to ensure that measures are applied “in a non-discriminatory manner”, that they remain in place “for no longer than the minimum period necessary”, and that they are not used “to undermine the future enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms”.
It also called on governments to be watchful of increased religious persecution, saying that “religious communities that regularly experience violations may be targeted further, including with accusations of being ‘carriers’ of the virus”.
Open Doors, which monitors global persecution of Christians, reported that conspiracy theories and misinformation have led to attacks on churches.
It reported that one church in Russia was falsely alleged to have continued meeting during the lockdown, leading to an attempted arson attack on another evangelical church.
Jo Newhouse, spokesperson for Open Doors, said: “It’s distressing to hear of the blaming of Christians for the COVID-19 pandemic in places where the Body of Christ is already under immense pressure. We call on the government to do all in its power to counter the spreading of misinformation and to make sure that all minorities are adequately protected against violence, especially in remote areas.”
Last month, the US Attorney General promised that action will be taken against officials who disproportionately sanction religious organisations during the coronavirus outbreak.
Kerri Kupec from the Office of the Attorney General stated via Twitter that: “While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly not single out religious orgs.”
She added that people could expect action from the Department of Justice in the near future.