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  • Timothy Cockes

ERLC signs letter urging religious liberty in Nigeria

A Nigerian woman reads the Bible. Nigeria is the most dangerous country in which to be a Christian, reports say.

NASHVILLE, TN (BP) – The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) recently joined several human rights organizations and religious freedom advocates in signing a letter urging Congress to address the ongoing religious persecution taking place in Nigeria.

The letter, signed by ERLC President Brent Leatherwood, was sent to members of Congress on Tuesday (Dec. 12) and officially entered into congressional record by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

The document comes in advance of the U.S. State Department releasing its annual list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs), which documents nations where religious freedom is limited or religious persecution is experienced.

Nigeria was omitted from the CPC list the past two years after being included in 2020’s list.

Hannah Daniel, policy director for the ERLC, said the letter urges Congress to return Nigeria to the CPC list.

“It is reprehensible that the U.S. government has repeatedly turned a blind eye to the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Nigeria, and we continue to urge them to use all tools available, including the Country of Particular Concern designation, to push back against this evil,” Daniel said.

The letter was also signed by other religious and human rights advocacy groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom, Global Christian Relief, Family Research Council, Religious Freedom Institute, American Association of Evangelicals and more.

When presenting the letter to Congress, Rep. Smith stressed the immensity of the situation in Nigeria.

“Mr. Speaker, I include in the record the following letter, drafted by respected experts — including former members of Congress — in the field of religious freedom, and sent to members on Capitol Hill today, underscoring the dire state of religious freedom in Nigeria, and calling for that country to be designated a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998,” Smith said in his remarks.

“Their stark appraisal of the situation, and the immediate threat to the lives of thousands of Nigerians, merits immediate action by the Biden Administration.”

The letter asks Congress to “urgently respond to the Department of State’s failure to adequately address egregious, systematic, and ongoing religious persecution in Nigeria.

“We specifically urge Nigeria’s designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the IRFA and the appointment of a special envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region,” the letter states. “Additionally, we urge you to support and cosponsor the bi-partisan legislation authored by Rep. Chris Smith and Rep. Henry Cuellar House Resolution 82, which calls for the State Department to carry out these two steps.

“As Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy, Nigeria wields significant influence in Sub-Saharan Africa. By allowing religious persecution to proliferate within its borders, Nigeria is compounding already heightened regional insecurity. Both American interests and the International Religious Freedom Act require a response.”

House Resolution 82, introduced by Smith in January, calls for the Biden administration to add Nigeria to the CPC list, as well as appoint a Special Envoy to Nigeria and the surrounding Lake Chad Region to “monitor and combat atrocities in the region.”

Smith serves as a senior member on the Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of its Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee. Additionally, he serves as the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

In a press release regarding Resolution 82, Smith said “the Biden Administration’s totally unjustified decision to retreat from the noble and necessary fight to protect victims of religious persecution puts even more people in jeopardy.”

Smith once again pressed the administration over the matter during a congregational hearing he led this June regarding the state of religious freedom around the world.

“I am concerned that the U.S. State Department is not using all the tools provided to hold guilty parties accountable,” Smith said about the on-going persecution of Christians and other faith groups in Nigeria.

During the past two years when Nigeria was not given the CPC designation, frequent reports of Christian persecution, often times carried out by terrorist groups, have come forward.

In 2023, media reports state hundreds of Christians have been killed in terrorist attacks that have often targeted women and children.

In May of this year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) wrote in its annual report that Nigeria, along with four other countries, should be added back to the CPC list. 

USCIRF cited Nigeria as the most dangerous country for Christians to live.

The recent congressional letter, also signed by a USCIRF representative, cites statistics from persecution watchdog group Open Doors, which state 90 percent of all the Christians killed for their faith worldwide in 2022 were killed in Nigeria. This is an increase from the 80 percent it reported in 2021.

More than 5,000 Nigerian Christians were reportedly killed for their faith in 2022.

According to media reports, USCIRF leaders recently met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to once again urge him to place Nigeria on the CPC list. Reports say the State Department is expected to release the 2023 CPC list in the coming weeks, although some expected the list to already be published by Friday, Dec. 15.

Daniel said advocating for Christians in Nigeria is a necessity.

“As believers, we know that if one part of the body suffers, we all share in that suffering. The cries of our brothers and sisters around the world experiencing severe persecution and even death for clinging to the truth of the Gospel cannot be ignored,” Daniel said.



Timothy Cockes is a writer in Nashville.

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