As I write this, Meriam Yahya Ibrahim sits in a Sudanese jail sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. Her father was Muslim, and although he was never a part of her life, the Sudanese government declares that having a Muslim father makes Meriam a Muslim too. Under sharia law, her embrace of Christianity makes her guilty of apostasy, an offense punishable by death.
In Iran, Pastor Saeed Abedini has been jailed for nearly two years because of his Christian faith. Prison guards beat him to the point that he loses consciousness. He has required hospitalizations due to both illness and injuries suffered while imprisoned. This past month he was forcibly removed from the hospital by prison guards, again beaten to the point of unconsciousness, and returned to prison. The only justification offered by the Iranian authorities for Pastor Saeed’s imprisonment is that he is a Christian and supports the Christian community in Iran.
In northern Nigeria, the radical Islamists of Boko Haram routinely terrorize and murder Christians as well as others, including Muslims. In 2012 a spokesman for Boko Haram warned the group would target Christians, declaring, “We will create so much effort to end the Christian presence in our push to have a proper Islamic state that the Christians won't be able to stay." Since that time they have killed hundreds of people and burned over fifty churches. In April of this year they kidnapped 300 young girls, most of whom are Christian, from a school in Chibok. The girls have not been found and the terrorists are threatening to sell the girls into slave-like Islamic marriages.
These are but a few of the countless examples around world of atrocities due to religious intolerance. Religiously motivated persecution fuels a deplorable disregard for the sanctity of human life. Those who profess a minority viewpoint are deemed of lesser value and their lives are considered expendable.
Unfortunately, much of the most violent religious persecution goes seemingly unnoticed by the West. The case of Meriam Ibrahim, however, has rightly drawn universal condemnation from multiple government officials as well as the United Nations. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement declaring, “We urge the Sudanese Government to meet its obligations under international law to protect the right to freedom of religion, which is enshrined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Sudan has ratified.”
There is a tinge of irony to the United Nations’ forceful statement in support of religious liberty. It comes on the heels of the United Nations Committee Against Torture meeting in Geneva where the United States representative, Felice Gaer, suggested that the Vatican was guilty of psychological torture against women because the Catholic Church opposes abortion. In the realm of United Nations logic, diplomats like Ms. Gaer see the execution of Meriam Ibrahim as a human rights violation while the execution of an unborn child based on the whims of her mother as justice for women.
It is not just the United Nations that fails to grasp that true respect for human rights must protect all human life along the entire continuum from conception to natural death.
Many of the same celebrities and political figures who joined the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on Twitter to raise awareness of the kidnapped Nigerian girls would have whole-heartedly supported the killing of these same girls in utero. In their worldview, desiring an education does not diminish the value of the girls’ lives but being an inconvenience to their mothers makes them disposable.
It takes a great deal of arrogance to believe that anyone is capable of making a value judgment of another person’s life. Yet it is exactly this sort of arrogance that is the underpinning of religious persecution, abortion, euthanasia and a host of other assaults on the dignity of human life: You do not believe as I do therefore you are unfit to live. Your birth will compromise my lifestyle choices so I will abort you. Your need for care is too expensive, too emotionally burdensome, or too time consuming so I will euthanize you. In my judgment, you serve no useful purpose so your life has no value.
As abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia and the rationing of medical care become more mainstream around the world there is desensitization to the utilitarian philosophical roots that drive these policies. I have no doubts that the supporters of abortion and euthanasia would recoil in horror to be compared with Boko Haram or the radical Islamic regimes of Iran or Sudan. Yet their value judgments on the lives of the unborn or the lives of those who are infirm and disabled are really not that different from the value judgments based on extremist religious ideology. Both deny the intrinsic dignity of human life and ascribe the worth of a human person based on some arbitrary external assessment.
While it is essential to express outrage over religious persecution, our objections must not stop with confronting the disregard for religious liberty. We must also protest the underlying assumption that there can be any basis for devaluing human life.
It is time to remind those who think the violence of Boko Haram is intrinsically different than the violence of abortion that any attempt to establish a gradation of values for human life, whether it is based on ideology, socioeconomic status, age, health or physiological development, undermines all human dignity. To allow that some people are more valuable than others subjects the weak and vulnerable to the tyrannical control of the strong and powerful.
Denise Hunnell, MD, is a Fellow of Human Life International, an international pro-life and pro-family organization.