Recent events in multiple countries offer a picture of the tyranny and oppression that occur when government replaces God.
The US Congressional-Executive Commission on China recently released its annual report. It documented the worsening state of religious freedom in that country:
“Authorities abandoned any pretense that the Chinese government respects religious beliefs and practices or ethnic minority cultures in its years-long campaign of ‘’sinicization’ requiring greater conformity with officially sanctioned interpretations of Chinese culture … Officials demolished places of worship, denied participation in pilgrimages, intimidated parents and children to deter participation in religious gatherings, and forced some to renounce their beliefs. COVID-19 precautions were used as a pretext to prohibit religious activities, and religious believers continued to be arrested, with credible reports of torture in detention.”
The Chinese Communist Party also put in place a new law — called the “Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services” — prohibiting citizens and organizations from posting religious information on the Internet, unless they first obtain permission from the government. Reports suggest that even posting the word “Christ” online is a violation, as that term could cause “incitement.”
China’s crackdown may seem like a faraway threat, but egregious violations of religious freedom continue surfacing ever closer home. The Washington Examiner reported how religious communities in Venezuela and Nicaragua have been heinously targeted by the government:
“Religious freedom in Nicaragua has come under assault in recent years by President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista party, as they have tightened their grip on power…Venezuela’s ruling regime has unleashed the full weight of its repressive machinery against its opposition and civil society … Last year, Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders claimed that the Maduro regime harassed, intimidated, and retaliated against their communities for criticizing the regime and calling attention to the humanitarian crisis.”
This should remind Americans: There’s never any tolerance for religious freedom under tyranny. Repressive regimes must crush any dissent to exert complete control. And history repeatedly shows people of faith and houses of worship are often the first ones silenced and stripped of their liberties.
But why do oppressive regimes have a particular disdain for religious communities and the rights of citizens to freely live out their faith?
Because once a dictatorial, ruling elite succeeds at destroying religious freedom and subjugating the faithful, it’s only a matter of time until other fundamental freedoms — economic, political, and social — are ripped away as well.
Authoritarians know that houses of worship and people of faith are the ultimate check on government power. Their allegiance isn’t first and foremost to the government. A free people know their loyalty is to God, the true provider and source of our freedoms.
America’s Founders understood this truth. That’s why the First Amendment — which lists religious liberty as the First Freedom — is such an ingenious provision. Among many other protections, this is the FIRST one in the Constitution designed to prevent government abuse and, ultimately, outright tyranny.
Of course, what we’re seeing in China, Venezuela and Nicaragua is nothing new. It’s the same formula used by countless authoritarians.
Just 90 miles south of Key West, on the island of Cuba, Communist Party leader Fidel Castro clearly stated that people of faith had no place in Cuba’s political structure:
“The principle was established that religious believers would not be allowed to enter into the party’s ranks.”
Castro’s regime also ripped away the liberty of parents to choose a religious education for their children when it began absorbing religious schools into the nationalized education system. Recently, The Christian Post reported a pastor being sentenced to eight years in prison for participating in a peaceful protest.
Pastor Mario Lleonart Barroso — a persecuted pastor who fled the island fearing for his life— explained to First Liberty:
“Attacks on religious freedom are among the primary and most recurrent violations we see in those societies … Destroying the foundations of any society and guaranteeing the oppression of a population who’s been stripped of its rights requires these regimes to also destroy the certainty of Imago Dei, the idea that we have equal dignity because we are created by God, that our rights come from Him and not from government.”
We find further proof in the former Soviet Union’s Constitution, which states: “In the USSR, the church is separated from the state, and the school from the church.” (Note: Unlike the Soviet Constitution, the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the American Constitution). Historians have extensively documented that from its very start:
“Soviet Communism devastated religious life in the USSR. The Bolsheviks destroyed religious institutions, nationalized religious property, uprooted religious communities, and confined religious life.”
It’s often said a person can learn a lesson the “easy way” or the “hard way.” This principle applies not only to individuals but also to our nation as a whole. When we see the way that freedom and civil rights quickly dissipated in many nations, there is proverbial wisdom in learning from the example (and sadly, the failures) of others.
In this time when our rights are under attack like never before, Americans cannot ignore the terrifying results that come in the absence of religious liberty. Let’s hope we do not learn this lesson the hard way, by having to live under the boot of tyranny and oppression.
Originally published at First Liberty.
Jorge Gomez is the Content Strategist and Senior Writer for First Liberty Institute. He has previously worked as a communications and messaging strategist for faith-based nonprofits and conservative policy organizations. He holds a degree in political science from the University of Central Florida and a master’s degree in public policy from Liberty University.