By Tim Head, Op-Ed Contributor:Six-year-old Biola, four-year-old Leona, and eleven-month-old Seth were dressed in their Sunday best by their parents Rangana and Danadiri to attend St. Sebastian’s Church in
Negombo, Sri Lanka Easter Sunday to celebrate one of the holiest days in the Christian faith. Moments after arriving for worship, the entire family was brutally murdered by an Islamist terrorist who detonated a bomb inside St. Sebastian’s. This beautiful Christian family represents five of the 359 killed and more than 500 injured in a wave of bombings targeting Christians on Easter Sunday across Sri Lanka. Suicide bombers hit churches in Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa as worshipers celebrated the resurrection of their savior. The horrific scenes across Sri Lanka are an abomination to the world and a brutal reminder that terrorism from ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s bombings, and other Islamist groups are still a significant threat to peace-loving citizens across the world, particularly Christians. Christians are being persecuted, tortured, and even killed for their faith across the world. Unfortunately, the coordinated attacks targeting Christians in Sri Lanka were not isolated incidents. On Palm Sunday in 2017, ISIS suicide bombers killed 45 Coptic Christians in Egypt as they worshiped. A Taliban suicide bomber killed dozens of Christians celebrating Easter in 2016 in a public park in Pakistan. A Boko Haram killer took the lives of 38 Christians worshipping on Easter Sunday in 2012 in Nigeria. U.S. State Department estimates show that over 250 million Christians suffer some form of oppression for their beliefs around the world, most notably in North Korea and Iran. Recent studies show that 215 million Christians in more than 50 countries currently experience extreme levels of persecution — simply because they believe in Jesus Christ. Christian communities in have existed for nearly 2,000 years in Iraq and Syria, but in the past decade have been nearly exterminated by Muslim extremists. More than a million Syrian Christians have been killed, forcibly converted, or chased out of their own country. Iraq, which once was home to 1.5 million Christians, has just 200,000 Christians left after years of violence. In Iran, Christians face imprisonment, torture, and execution for their faith. Last August, a Christian couple was sentenced to one year in prison in Iran on the charge of “propagating against the Islamic Republic in favor of Christianity.” These Christian converts were arrested in 2015 and held without trial for three years before being sentenced. Anti-Christian violence is also spreading throughout Asia and Africa. Christians in Bangladesh, Laos, and Bhutan report increasing occurrences of Muslim and government-sponsored persecution. In North Korea, a recent defector described a “life of hell” for her nation’s Christian population as the Kim regime kills, imprisons and tortures Christians found practicing their faith. In Nigeria, the killing of Christians because of their faith shot up by more than 62 percent from 2016 to 2017. The list of atrocities committed against Christians peacefully practicing their religion is taking place in more than 50 countries all across the world. Places like China, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and Indonesia continue to crack down on churches and worshippers who don’t adhere to their respective regime’s rules of worship. Even political allies of the U.S. such as Saudi Arabia and India have seen dramatic increases in the number of Christians persecuted or killed for their faith. As the most religiously tolerant and free nation on earth, the United States must lead the way for the rest of the world in allowing believers of all faiths to live the tenets of their religion peacefully. However, as the data surrounding religious freedoms around the globe illustrates, it is imperative that President Trump and Congress continue efforts to insist that nations that do business with the U.S. must defend the rights, liberties, and lives of all people, including Christians, in their countries. President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback have displayed strong leadership on the international stage to advance the cause of religious liberty. Christians around the world are counting on the United States to continue to lead the way in stopping religious persecution and protecting the rights of Christians and other religious minorities around the world. Tim Head is the Executive Director of Faith & Freedom Coalition.