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Court grants Nigerian woman fundamental right to convert to Christianity


“This is an important decision that we pray will help others facing threats to their lives only because they came to believe in Christ.”


Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International has won a case in Nigeria protecting a Christian woman from her Muslim family, who had threatened to kill her for converting.

Quick Facts

The woman, who ADF International referred to as Mary Olowe (a pseudonym to protect her identity), faced a threat from her father and brothers who wanted to murder her for converting to Christianity. Mary’s mother smuggled her to a Christian community, and the two pursued protection in court. Represented by ADF, Mary was awarded an injunction against her father and brothers, and the court recognized her right to change religions.

The high court ruled, “The defendants are hereby restrained from threat and attempt on the life of the applicant following her decision to change from the practice of Islam to Christianity and also not to breach her fundamental rights as to the choice of her religion or thoughts.”

Sean Nelson, legal counsel for ADF International, stated,

“We are relieved that Mary has found protection from these credible threats and that the court recognized her fundamental right to convert from Islam to Christianity. This is an important decision that we pray will help others facing threats to their lives only because they came to believe in Christ. No person should be persecuted, harassed, or threatened with death for their faith nor for converting from one faith to another. Christian converts from Islam in Nigeria are often denied the ability to freely live out their faith because of targeted threats and attacks against them, even from their family members. ADF International is committed to defending the right of every person to live out their faith without fear of persecution, and we pray that all in Nigeria will have their right to religious freedom recognized and protected.”

To the American, a court ruling protecting a woman from being murdered because she converted to Christianity may seem like a given, but that isn’t the case in Nigeria where Islamic terrorism has killed thousands of Christians in the last several years and where twelve Nigerian state governments adhere to Sharia Law. According to Open Doors International, 5,621 Christians were killed for their faith last year, with 90 percent of those having taken place in Nigeria.

Nigerians and religious freedom groups have been sounding the alarm for many years, but it has largely fallen on deaf ears. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that Nigeria be named a country of particular concern (CPC) since 2009. Yet only in 2020 did the State Department give the nation the designation. Religious freedom advocates were shocked and appalled when in 2021 the State Department not only removed the designation but removed Nigeria from even the Special Watch List, which is a less serious classification.

Rev. Johnnie Moore, co-author of The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa, told Fox News that in Nigeria, “Thousands of churches have been torched, children massacred, pastors beheaded, and homes and fields set ablaze by the tens of thousands, with people being targeted for their Christian faith alone.”

In their book, Moore and co-author Rabbi Abraham Cooper paint an even grimmer picture.

“After our journey there, we want the world to know that you haven’t heard half of it. The terrorists’ aim is to ethnically cleanse northern Nigeria of its Christians and to kill every Muslim who stands in their way…. This portion of Africa will be ground zero for the next generation’s war on terrorism, and the humanitarian cost of letting these problems fester and multiply in the near term could result in disaster for much of Western Africa.”

Some governments and foreign policy leaders claim that the murders are land disputes between farmers and herdsmen sparked by climate change and resource scarcity. The State Department claimed in 2022, “While much of the violence involved predominantly Muslim herders and, depending on location, either predominantly Christian or Muslim farmers,…banditry and other criminality, not animosity between particular religious groups or on the basis of religion, were the primary drivers of intercommunal violence.”

But it has been clear to those in Nigeria that this isn’t the case. A survivor of one slaughter that left 42 dead and over 300 houses razed “disclosed that the terrorists who attacked his community were seen in Hilux vans shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ while shooting,” adding, “[t]he attacks did not in any way suggest that it was a conflict between Fulani herdsmen and indigenous farmers.”

Richard Ikiebe, a Nigerian who is president of the International Organization for Peace Building and Social Justice, said at a press conference in Washington, D.C., “Stop saying that it’s a farmer-herder clash. And stop saying that it’s a poverty issue…and stop saying it’s a climate change issue.”

Religious freedom is not guaranteed. It has to be fought for, nurtured, and defended. Our ancestors journeyed to this country to find religious liberty, fighting the elements and later the British military for that freedom and more. Our Constitution protects our right to freely exercise our faith, but not every nation provides that protection. Christians, and even some Muslims, in Nigeria are facing the most frightening of threats. Kidnappings, rape, and ransom; the martyring of pastors; and the killing of thousands each year are just some of the tribulations currently being faced by Nigerians.

What is happening in Nigeria is religious persecution to the highest degree, and it is critical that the State Department and the nation as a whole recognize it. It is also a call to each of us to continuously inculcate a respect for religious freedom within American society, or we will one day lose more of our freedom, and our children and grandchildren will live in a nation where people are persecuted for their faith. That’s why the work of ADF and ADF International and religious freedom groups like Open Doors International are so important.

It is encouraging that a Nigerian court recognized one Christian’s right to convert, but we must all continue to pray diligently for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nigeria and other parts of the world who refuse to deny their Savior in the face of brutal and relentless religious persecution.

The Church must be involved in public discourse and influence. That’s why we write — so our readers can be equipped to understand and pursue righteous change in the world. For more timely, informative, and faith-based content, subscribe to the Standing for Freedom Center newsletter.

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