by Ed Mechmann

Earlier this week, the President came to New York for the General Assembly meeting of the United Nations. Speaking at an event at the UN, the President said some excellent things about the importance of protecting religious freedom. He said that “protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities”, and announced $25 million in extra funding for that purpose. Those are laudable commitments, and we should be grateful for them.

At the same time, unfortunately, the President’s Administration continues to undermine efforts to help refugees who are seeking to escape persecution. The administration has announced that it will once again slash the total number of refugee admissions to another all-time low – only 18,000, which is an 84% cut from the last year of the previous administration. While the State Department has promised to set aside 5,000 of those admissions for religious minorities, it is woefully inadequate. And recent changes in the procedure for applying for asylum in the US has effectively ended virtually all refugee admission. America can and should do better.

It’s not as if the persecution of religious people across the globe has declined. If anything, it continues to increase. There are daily headlines from around the world of horrors inflicted on religious minorities, particularly Christians. The papal charity Aid to the Church in Need has documented that

61 percent of the world’s population live in countries where the right to religious freedom is obstructed or denied outright.. some 327 million Christians live in countries where there is religious persecution, with another 178 million suffering some form of discrimination because of their faith.

 There are entire areas of the world, particularly in the Middle East, where historically significant faiths have been virtually eliminated in a kind of “religious cleansing”. Women are sexually assaulted and coerced into involuntary conversions. Priests and religious are kidnapped. Churches are bombed. Yet Western nations – all of whom have a long Christian history – are seemingly indifferent or are just paying lip service to the crisis.

This is the context for the Administration’s lamentable decision to further restrict the number of refugees that will be admitted to the United States. How can anyone take seriously our protestations that religious freedom is a high priority, when we’re unwilling to open the “golden door” to people who are suffering for their faith?

We need to listen to the leader of an organization that helps persecuted Yazidis – a group that has been brutally persecuted by Islamic radicals in Iraq to the extent that our government has declared it to be a genocide. Yet only 5 Yazidis were admitted to the US as refugees in 2018 and only 20 so far this year.

The Yezidi leader had this to say: “The genocide is still ongoing, and you wonder to yourself, is it all just talk?” Yes, indeed, one really does have to wonder.