When Religious Freedom is Under Attack

Written by Sorin A. Leahu - 

Many by now have heard of the account of Pastor Andrew Brunson. For those unfamiliar, a brief summary, as detailed by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, serves as a useful background:

“Andrew Brunson, 50, is an American citizen who has lived in Turkey for 23 years. He is a pastor of the Izmir Diriliş (Resurrection) Church, a small evangelical Presbyterian congregation in the city of Izmir. Andrew filed an application to renew his residence visa in April 2016. On October 7, 2016, the local police department summoned him for what he assumed to be a routine meeting to discuss his visa renewal. However, he was taken into custody upon his arrival at the station and told he would be deported within 15 days.

A lawyer who asked to visit Andrew was denied access. When the lawyer returned with an affidavit, officials told him that he signed a statement declaring that he did not want a lawyer; the document he signed waived his right to legal representation. Initially, Turkey also refused to allow a U.S. consulate representative to meet with him, a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. During this period, members of the Pastor’s church attempted to bring food, water, and clothing to him, but were denied access until October 13. Pastor Brunson was not allowed contact with other prisoners and was held incommunicado in the Harmandali Detention Center.

A court document released at a December 9, 2016 hearing indicated that Pastor Brunson had been charged with ‘membership in an armed terrorist organization.’ The judge reportedly mentioned allegations that Pastor Brunson is linked to the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government accuses of planning the failed July 2016 coup.

Pastor Brunson initially was held in a cell with 21 other inmates that was built to hold only eight prisoners. He was transferred in August 2017 to Kiriklar Prison where he was in a cell with two other men who have been accused of being members of the Gülen movement. He spent 24 hours a day in his cell, leaving for one hour weekly for visits...He has been incarcerated since October 2016 without due process and inadequate physical and psychological support.”

Western observers in the court have indicated that there is no evidence implicating the Pastor in any crime. Most recently, it has been announced that Pastor Brunson has been placed on house arrest while he awaits a trial. This ordeal is just the latest attack on religious liberty around the world and provides us with three important reminders. 

First, it reminds us of our responsibility to pray for Pastor Brunson and others who are suffering similar fates. The writer of Hebrews instructs to “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.” - Hebrews 13:3 (NASB). Let us take this responsibility seriously knowing that the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective as referenced in James 5:16, which states, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

Second, this attack reminds us that although religious liberty is an inalienable right, human governments consistently fail to recognize, or at least seek to curtail, this fundamental right. This is demonstrated in various forms and degrees. In places like Iran, China, North Korea, and the like, seeking to live out one’s faith comes with a heavy price such as imprisonment, torture, or even death. While these extremes are not present in the United States, religious intolerance still permeates in other forms such as censorship, the demand to violate one’s conscience, undue burdens on the ability to obtain a place of worship, or exclusion from the public square, among others. Whatever its form, the root is the same.

Third, it reminds of the need to fight to preserve religious liberty wherever and whenever it is threatened. As Ronald Reagan stated, “[f]reedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” The attorneys at Mauck & Baker are proud to stand on the front lines protecting religious liberty. With God’s help, and with the prayers of the faithful, we will continue to do so for many years to come.

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