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No church buildings left in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (BP) — Not one Christian church building is left standing in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. State Department. The last such public place of Christian worship was destroyed by its landowner in March 2010.

The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report, which revealed the destruction of the final Afghan church building, said there was a decrease in religious freedom during the reporting period, which covered July to December of 2010. The decline was a result of the Afghanistan government’s failure to acknowledge mistreatment of Christians and other religious minorities, according to the September report.

“The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom,” the report said.

Afghanistan’s constitution conveys a contradiction that has resulted in the restriction of religious freedom, according to the report. The document states Islam is the “religion of the state” but also declares that “followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of the law.”

Population estimates for Afghanistan range from 24 to 33 million. It is projected that 80 percent are Sunni Muslim, 19 percent are Shia Muslim and less than 1 percent practice another form of religion. The Christian community is estimated to consist of 500 to 8,000 members.

Though there are no explicit restrictions on religious minority groups establishing places of worship, there are “very few” such public worship centers, according to the report.

Non-Muslims in Afghanistan face social discrimination, harassment and sometimes violence, the report explained. Christians, Sikhs and Hindus have not been protected from these acts of injustice.

“This treatment was not systematic, but the government did nothing to improve conditions during the reporting period,” the report said. “Public opinion continued to be openly hostile toward Afghan converts to Christianity and to proselytizing by Christian organizations and individuals.”

Converting to Christianity in Afghanistan sometimes requires risk and sacrifice in other aspects of life besides religion. The report cites that departing from Islam can often mean broken marriages, loss of jobs and rejection by family, friends and society.

The decline in religious liberty comes as American forces continue their fight in the Asian country that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Nearly 1,700 U.S. military members have died there since the invasion, according to CNSNews.com’s database of all U.S. casualties in Afghanistan. U.S. taxpayers have spent $440 billion in the attempt to improve Afghanistan’s new government.

Deterioration of religious freedom in Afghanistan has a direct correlation to the government’s inadequacy in addressing the issue of discrimination against minority religions, the report said. The United States still encourages the majority-Muslim country to allow its people to practice any religion they choose, according to the State Department.

“The U.S. government regularly discusses religious freedom with the government officials as part of the overall policy to promote human rights,” the report said.

Afghanistan’s lack of Christian churches was first reported by CNSNews.com.
Holly Naylor is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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