Meriam Ibrahim and Faith McDonnell

MeriamIbrahim_2(BCN editor’s note: This is the first of two Ken Blackwell columns for Thursday.)

Editor’s Note: This column was coauthored by Bob Morrison.

The “War on Women” theme has become a campaign perennial in the U.S.

We hear it charged that anyone who does not support sex selection abortions is somehow engaged in a war against women. No matter that the vast majority of those “selected” for death in these horrific procedures are female, that is, little women.

In a similar vein, many of us who speak out for women shockingly abused in Muslim lands are accused of being Islamophobes and culturally insensitive. The simple fact is that the fate of women in these lands is grim. In not one of the Muslim majority lands are basic human rights respected.

But the inventors of new “rights” seem to be increasingly indifferent to the denial of those foundational universal rights that were recognized in UN documents more than half a century ago. For the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UNDHR) and their “universal” application no less a figure than Eleanor Roosevelt worked for years. For her efforts, she was called “First Lady of the World.”

A key part of the UNDHR is Article 18, which enshrines the right to change your religion, to practice and manifest your beliefs. Here’s the full text:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

In much of the Bloody Crescent, Article 18 is a virtual dead letter. But today, we are indebted to the tireless efforts of Faith McDonnell of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). Faith has reported on many of these shocking violations of human rights—especially in Sudan. For years, Faith’s voice has been the Voice of Faith for endangered Christians in this war-torn African nation.

Much of what we came to know of the case of Meriam Ibrahim we learned from the detailed and accurate reporting done by Faith McDonnell. Meriam, a young mother in Sudan, was jailed and threatened with death for apostasy, the act of changing her religion from Islam. Her captors also clapped in irons her 20-month old son. He was briefly the youngest prisoner of conscience in the world—until Meriam went into labor with her second child, a little girl.

This Christian family was literally in chains for their faith. And Meriam’s husband, Daniel Wani, is a U.S. citizen.That fact made their children U.S. citizens.

Despite this, it was took a Herculean effort to move the State Department to get engaged in this case. We begin to think the late Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms, was right when he said he hoped to see the State Department open up “an American desk.”

Happily, Meriam and her family have been freed. For her faith and her courage, Family Research Council will honor Meriam Ibrahim at a Washington Gala at the annual Values Voter Summit on September 27th.

We should also salute the record of that champion of human rights, lawyer and activist, Bill Saunders. Bill spent many years at Family Research Council and now is a senior attorney with Americans United for Life.

More than a decade ago, Bill joined fellow believers in Sudan at Christmas.

The Khartoum regime then called the National Islamic Front, sent warplanes over the church on Christmas Day to bomb the Christian worshipers—their fellow countrymen! Bill’s reporting on this event—long before 9/11—first alerted many of us to the dangers of Islamist violence.

So, as we honor Meriam Ibrahim, we thank God for the witness of human rights activists here and around the world. We thank Faith McDonnell and Bill Saunders, our fellow Christians who cry out for the persecuted church. They are the voice of conscience in our distracted times.

Ken Blackwell_2Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and the American Civil Rights Union, and on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

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