Madam Speaker, this Easter, Pope Francis focused his message on the worldwide persecution of Christians. Around the world, Christians are being imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith. According to the Pew Research Center, no religious group is persecuted in more countries around the world than Christians. Christians faced persecution in 102 countries out of about 190-plus that we have in the world. That was in 2013. So tonight I will mention only eight of those countries: Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Kenya. And I will also mention that terrorist group, ISIS.
Christian pastor and American citizen Saeed Abedini has been held in an Iranian jail for the last 2 1/2 years because he is a Christian. Weeks before he turned 7, Pastor Abedini's son wrote to his imprisoned father, inviting him to come to his birthday party. In reply, Pastor Abedini wrote: ``Daddy loves you so much. I long to be there for your birthday and to make this reunion happen, but my chains are keeping me from you.'' His son celebrated his 7th birthday last month. It was his third birthday without his dad. His dad is still in the jailhouse because he is a Christian.
According to the 2015 Open Doors World Watch List, North Korea is the worst persecutor of Christians in the whole world. Christians are sent to prison camps for possession of Bibles, which is a crime. Some are even executed because they are Christians. The State Department estimates that 80,000 to 120,000 North Koreans are imprisoned in labor camps, many because of their religious beliefs. In November 2013, 80 North Korean Christians were reportedly executed for possession of Bibles and South Korean religious films.
Now to Pakistan. In Pakistan, two suicide blasts hit the Christ Church and Catholic Church last month, killing 17 Christians. A Pakistan Taliban splinter group claimed responsibility for the attack, which left another 80 people injured. Last week, two Muslims heading to Friday prayers at their mosque in the same city where the churches were bombed came across a 14-year-old Christian boy. They stopped him and asked him his religious affiliation. And the boy proudly said: ``I told them that I am Christian. They started beating me,'' he said. ``When I tried running, both boys started following me through the street.'' They caught me and ``threw kerosene on me and set me on fire.'' This Pakistan boy, this Christian has burns covering more than 55 percent of his body.
In Egypt, over a 3-day period in 2013, Coptic Christians experienced the worst single attack against their churches in 700 years, with 40 Christian churches destroyed and over 100 other sites severely damaged. Thousands and thousands of Coptic Christians are estimated to have fled their homeland of Egypt because of religious persecution.
Most Coptic Christians in Egypt have a tattoo of a cross on their wrist, Madam Speaker. It is a sign of devotion to their Christian faith. When his Arabic language teacher told Ayman Nabil Labib to cover that tattoo in theclassroom, Ayman pulled out the cross that was hanging around his neck for all in the classroom to see. The teacher was enraged. He choked Ayman and asked his Muslim classmates, ``What are you going to do with him?'' His classmates then beat Ayman to death. He was murdered in an Egyptian classroom because he was a Christian.
In Libya, ISIS captured and beheaded 21 people because they were Christians from nearby Egypt. When the victims' families wanted to build a church in their honor, they were attacked by another Muslim mob and beaten.
In Syria, the situation is even worse for Christians. In June 2013, a cluster of Christian villages were totally destroyed. The head of all Franciscans in the Middle East reported that ``of the 4,000 inhabitants of the church village of Ghassanieh, no more than 10 people remain.'' In a village of 4,000 Christians, 10 are left.
In Syria, it is not just Assad's thugs killing Christians. Two Syrian bishops have been kidnapped by rebel groups. Militants expelled 90 percent of the Christians in the city of Homs. Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch says that, out of a population of 1.75 million, 450,000 Syrian Christians have fled Syria in fear.
Then to Iraq. In Iraq, the story is just as bleak. The number of Christian churches in Iraq has declined from 300 in 2003 to 57 today. A place that Christians have called their home since the time of Jesus, Iraq's Christianpopulation has almost entirely disappeared. The population has dropped 90 percent since the first gulf war.
In Kenya, Christians are also persecuted. At 5:30 in the morning on April 2 of this year, the terrorist group al Shabaab attacked a school. Collins Wetangula, a student at the school, said when the gunmen arrived at his dormitory, he could hear them opening doors and asking the people who were hiding inside whether they were Christians or whether they were Muslims.
Here is what he said: ``If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot.'' A spokesman for the terror group told the BBC that it attacked the school because ``it's on Muslim land colonized by non-Muslims.'' Of the147 people who were slaughtered that day because they were Christians, many of them were students--teenagers, kids.
When the same terrorist group attacked a shopping mall in Kenya in 2013, they took a number of shoppers captive. One of them was Joshua Hakim. When Joshua got close to his attackers, he showed them his ID, but he covered up his Christian name with his thumb. ``They told me to go,'' he recalled later. ``Then an Indian man came forward, and they said, `What is the name of Mohammed's mother?' When he couldn't answer, they just shot him'' on the spot.
There are many more unnamed Christian martyrs who are persecuted for their faith, Madam Speaker. The persecution of Christians has been going on since Stephen was stoned for his faith in Acts 7. But what these current accounts show is that persecutions of Christians around the world are growing in number and are being tolerated more by governments and, in my opinion, encouraged by some non-Christian societies.
We cannot deny this reality. We must tell it like it is. People should not make excuses for or cover up the widespread persecution of Christians throughout the world. Governments, terrorist groups, and others should not get a pass and ``tacit hunting permits'' to kill Christians.
The problem is rogue States like Pakistan and Iran and rogue terrorist groups like ISIS who get their legitimacy and power from imprisoning and killing Christians. As a country, the United States needs to reexamine its relationship with States that persecute Christians. Maybe we should give these countries less American money until they start protecting--instead of arresting--Christians. We need to be singularly minded when it comes to describing groups like ISIS and what they really are: They are evil; they kill in the name of their radical religion.
Madam Speaker, one of the pillars of our Nation and a foundation of our Republic is the principle of religious freedom, religious freedom for all faiths. It is constitutionally protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Of the five rights mentioned in the First Amendment, religious freedom and liberty is mentioned first. This is not by accident. Our forefathers were serious about the protection of religious liberty. It is a basic civil right, human right, and an inalienable right.
Since Pilgrims came to America to escape religious persecution in Europe, our Nation has stood as a bright beacon to the world for religious freedom for all faiths--Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and others. But the question before us today is: Will we remain a beacon of hope for persecuting Christians around the world?
It is properly written in Scripture, a parable by the good Lord. I will paraphrase. He said: A man was traveling down a road, and he fell among robbers. The man was beaten, and his property was stolen, and he was left for dead. Other people traveled down the same road, saw the victim, but they passed over on the other side of the road. They went their own way and avoided this victim.
Madam Speaker, we cannot pass on the other side while Christians worldwide are being beaten, beheaded, and brutalized because of their religious faith, being a Christian. We must be that beacon that shines brightly in proud protection of religious freedom for all, including Christians.
And that is just the way it is.