India is growing more hostile towards Christianity with practices such as “anti-conversion” laws, under which a doctor is now being criminally charged for encouraging her COVID patients with the phrase “Jesus heals.”
Dr. Sandhya Tiwari had been hired to participate in the Madhya Pradesh State’s “Kill Corona” program. At a time when so many Indian residents were sick and dying from a new wave of COVID-19 infections, the young Christian doctor tried to lift her patients’ spirits by telling them that “Jesus heals.” When one patient complained, the police seized Tiwari’s cell phone and Christian literature. She was also suspended from her work as a medical doctor and faces criminal charges.
The “Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021” is an ironically named “anti-conversion” law. Much of India has anti-conversion laws that are thinly veiled attempts at stifling minority religions such as Christianity. Some such laws ban interfaith marriages by pretending that they are “forced conversions.” False accusations in India abound, leading to the creation of mobs who attack Christians.
A similar situation seems to be happening with Tiwari. One video shows a man accosting Tiwari.
“What is wrong in telling them that God heals?” she asked. “I did not tell anybody to convert or forced anybody to pray to Jesus. I am being a Christian. I told them that Jesus heals.”
A local Christian source spoke with International Christian Concern (ICC) and said,
“This is the state of religious freedom in our state. We can be booked for a conversion that we might have with people of other faith. In most cases the facts are twisted to suit to an agenda, and sadly the state machinery are handy to victimize the minorities. If the situation is such for a medical professional, the condition for the common Christian could be much worse.”
A study by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) named India as one of the nations of particular concern. “The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” its authors noted.
The government’s portrayal of religious minorities is intended to turn Hindu citizens against them, particularly Christians and Muslims. The government’s action has led to physical attacks and churches being burned.
Madhya Pradesh may pretend that “anti-conversion” laws promote religious freedom, but they are exactly the opposite. A Pew Research study found that India’s restriction of religious freedom is at an all-time high.
India isn’t usually the first country that comes to mind when one thinks of religious persecution, but the nation is one of the worst offenders. A powerful Hindu-nationalist party has seized power and is seeking to smother Christianity.
This is why it is so important for the United States to protect religious liberty. The free exercise of religion means that you cannot be jailed for practicing your beliefs. India has essentially criminalized being a Christian. While that may seem extreme, it is actually the norm throughout history. America is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to religious freedom, and our freedom could be stripped away just as easily as nations have done for thousands of years.
In Finland, a politician is currently facing up to six years in prison for stating the biblical view of sexuality under a “hate speech” law. Whether it’s “blasphemy” laws in the Middle East, “anti-conversion” laws in India, “hate speech” laws in Europe, or China’s oppression of anything other than worship of the state, governments invent justifications for restricting freedom.
During the COVID pandemic, states like California deliberately discriminated against religious freedom in the name of safety by imposing more stringent restrictions on religious services than secular activities. The Supreme Court repeatedly ruled such discrimination was unconstitutional, yet California continued to restrict worship.
The desire for control and power will always be the reasons why authoritarians attempt to oppress religious freedom, but government can never have a legitimate reason to restrict a person’s right to worship. It is God-given and therefore inalienable.
Religious freedom is the foundation of America, and without it America will cease to be a beacon of freedom. As the French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville once observed, “Freedom sees in religion the companion of its struggles and its triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, the divine source of its rights. It considers religion as the safeguard of mores; and mores as the guarantee of laws and the pledge of its duration.”
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