Why Religious Freedom Still Matters

The Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department has released resources for Religious Liberty Sabbath, which the world church will mark on January 19, 2019.

Why does the Seventh-day Adventist world church take one Sabbath each year to focus on religious freedom? For one simple reason: religious liberty can’t be taken for granted.

Current statistics and studies show clearly that challenges to religious freedom exist in almost every country and region, regardless of the dominant religion or political environment. And these religious liberty challenges don’t all look the same. Recent news reports from around the world church reveal a broad spectrum of different religious freedom issues faced by church members, ranging from workplace discrimination to physical harassment and violence.

In South Korea, an Adventist medical student is pursuing difficult and expensive legal action for the right to sit for exams on a day other than Sabbath. In the politically unstable region of Eastern Ukraine, religious minorities, including Adventists, are facing increased government hostility. Three church members were recently detained and later released. In Ethiopia, a university student failed a class three times—and was refused graduation—because he would not sit for an exam on Sabbath. In the United States, an Adventist employee was fired for refusing to work on Sabbath and, after years of litigation, has appealed to the Supreme Court to hear his case. In Australia, church schools may soon face pressure to make hiring decisions without regard to core Adventist beliefs. In some nations of Central Asia, which we chose not to name, Adventist churches struggle for legal recognition and the for right to meet, worship, and conduct mission. In parts of Nigeria, Adventists are among those who live and worship in areas at constant risk of religiously-motivated violence. In Pakistan, a young Adventist man was falsely accused of blasphemy against the dominant religion and is currently serving a life sentence.

These examples are just some of the challenges faced not only by Adventists, but by many millions of people of every faith. According to recent study released by the Pew Forum, some 83 countries have “high or very high levels of overall restrictions on religion – whether resulting from government actions or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups.” In terms of population, that translates into more than 5 billion people living in countries where there are high or very high levels of restriction, both legal and social, on religious freedom.

On January 19, our world church will mark Religious Liberty Sabbath. It’s an opportunity to remember and pray for the many millions of men, women, and children who continue to suffer harassment, discrimination, and even imprisonment or physical harm because they chose to stay true to their conscience. And it’s a chance to remember why defending religious freedom—not only for fellow church members, but for every human being—continues to be a core value of the Adventist Church.

Click here for ideas and materials that can be used to mark Religious Liberty Sabbath in your local church. These resources include some short video features, a sermon video, and sermon notes that can be used or adapted.

BETTINA KRAUSE | Communication Director
International Religious Liberty Association
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