Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said the Arab Spring and the Muslim campaign against Catholic University are symptoms of a growing anti-Christian climate, and pledged to defend religious freedom around the globe.
Speaking at a South Carolina fundraiser Saturday, Gingrich criticized the Obama administration’s involvement in the Arab Spring – the Middle East grassroots uprising that has overthrown longstanding authoritarian leaders such as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak – arguing that such involvement is creating an atmosphere of hatred towards Christians.
“People say, ‘Oh isn’t this great, we’re having an Arab Spring,’” he said. “I think we may in fact be having an anti-Christian spring. I think people should take this [assertion] pretty soberly.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2011 report states that while “the Egyptian government engage in and tolerated religious freedom violations” before Mubarak stepped down in February, sectarian violence targeting Coptic Christians have grown unchecked following the Arab Spring. The transitional government, the report noted, “has failed to protect religious minorities … during the transitional period when minority communities are increasing vulnerable.”
Additionally, persecution watchdog group Open Doors reported last week that Libya’s Christian minority are “keeping a low profile” since Gaddafi’s death at the hands of rebels.
Open Door USA President and CEO Carl Moeller said, “It is not very likely that the situation for the Christians will change quickly. The new government will likely be an Islamic government and for now, Christians will continue in the same way that they were used too.”
Prior to Gaddafi’s death, Moeller said, Christians were “very suspicious and did not know whom they could trust.”
Gingrich during his talk also noted the dwindling number of Christians in post-drawdown Iraq. According to Open Doors, the number of Christians in Iraq has dropped from around 1 million in 1991 to 345,000 in 2011. Iraqi churches suffered numerous bombings in January, July and August of this year.
The former House Speaker also took issue with the complaint by Muslim students against Catholic University of America last week. The complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights charged that the school rooms used for Islamic prayer have religious material such crosses and images of Jesus, and that the private Catholic university would not sponsor a Muslim student association.
Gingrich, a recent convert to Catholicism, responded to the complaint by asking, "Are you prepared to sponsor a Christian missionary in Mecca? Because if you're not prepared to sponsor religious liberty in Saudi Arabia, don't come and nag us with some hypocritical baloney. So I think we need to be prepared to stand firm for genuine religious liberty, not for something that's anti-Christian."
Notably, George Washington University professor John Banzhaf is the only one behind the complaint. He admitted to The Christian Post in a statement that, so far, no Muslim students at the Catholic university have “registered a complaint with the university about the exercise of their religion.”
Banzhaf has also challenged Catholic University for its practice of single-sex dormitories.
Gingrich during the South Carolina event pledged to be a champion for religious liberty as president. “I would actively try to defend religious liberty across the planet, including in Egypt and Iraq,” he said.
Earlier in October, Gingrich also promised to combat “activist judges” that are hindering religious freedom within the United States at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.