Secular intolerance has a “chilling effect” on Christians who are having to practice “various forms of self-censorship” as they're finding it difficult to express their faith freely in society, according to a new report detailing accounts from four countries.
“Secular intolerance has a chilling effect on Christians, which directly affects their capacity to express their faith freely in society and is leading to various forms of self-censorship,” says the report, titled “Perceptions on Self-Censorship: Confirming and Understanding the ‘Chilling Effect,’” which includes case studies from France, Germany, Colombia and Mexico.
“Some people do indeed fear being subjected to legal proceedings or being criminally sanctioned on charges of discrimination, while others fear being subjected to disciplinary proceedings in their work or places,” notes the study, compiled by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America and the International Institute for Religious Freedom.
“With some exceptions, the majority chose to keep its expressions of faith or its opinions on issues related to life, marriage and the family from a Christian doctrine perspective private because they had witnessed sanctions or prosecutions to which colleagues or peers had been subjected,” it adds.
Many incidents cited in the report might seem insignificant, the authors say, but “these many small things together cause ‘death by a thousand cuts.’”
“A few cuts do not kill you and barely hurt. But continuous small strikes eventually have an impact. We posit that the accumulation of seemingly insignificant incidents creates an environment in which Christians do not feel comfortable — to some degree — to live their faith freely. Indeed, Western Christians experience a ‘chilling effect’ resulting from perceived pressures in their cultural environment, related to widely mediatized court cases.”
Further, the study observes, “Because of the subtle and generally non-physically violent nature of the chilling effect, it is often misunderstood or even ignored and therefore largely remains invisible.”
“This is the main reason why the phenomenon is not recognized in religious freedom datasets such as the Pew Research Center indexes,” the authors add.
The report also warns this form of censorship is not only limiting people’s exercise of religion or their right to manifest their convictions, “but also that these violations to the right to religious freedom can cause the disappearance of religion in a given context.”
Madeleine Enzelberger, executive director of OIDAC Europe, said the study “raises the legitimate question of: how is it possible in a mature, liberal democratic society that stands for tolerance, diversity, and inclusive and open discourse, that people are frightened to freely speak their minds?” according to Christian Today.
Many Christians interviewed as part of the study did not realize they were self-censoring. In some cases, they had self-censored to the extent that they now “stop seeing the characteristics related to self-censorship as a problem.”
As one of its conclusions, the study laments that “the Church has allowed itself to be self-censored … Christian religious leaders have more freedom to express themselves freely (but they do not always take advantage of it).”
To remedy this form of censorship, the authors suggest there's “an urgent need to educate policymakers, public servants (including the police) and judges about religion to increase their religious literacy.”
“We have seen that a high degree of religious illiteracy leads to misunderstanding of how religion informs behavior in different spheres of society and what the legitimate role of religion in the public domain is. Illiteracy therefore can consequently be the cause of ‘practical intolerance’ against Christians.”