Intolerance Against Christians in Europe and the US

There’s a disturbing trend happening in Europe and it’s making its way to the United States. More and more European Christians are facing cultural persecution and political intolerance. Since it’s largely unreported, it’s unlikely that we’ll hear much about it from mainstream news media. But the patterns are sweeping across the continent and the stories are sounding all too familiar.

For believers in Europe, government restrictions are slowly suffocating religious liberty, not only in one’s right to practice his religion, but also in his right to be free from the coercion of acting contrary to one’s religious beliefs. According to the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, believers are experiencing an increase in personal restrictions in five specific ways:

Limiting Conscientious Objection

This includes a nurse being able to opt out of assisting in an abortion procedure, a pharmacist not being required to dispense abortion-inducing drugs, or a wedding planner being free to decline business from same-sex couples. When someone is faced with the dilemma of what their conscience requires and their employer (or the law) requires, they have had the freedom to opt out based on a conscientious objection. Recently, however, European Christians’ freedom of conscience is facing restriction: In Austria, pharmacists are not protected by a “conscience clause” from being required to distribute the morning-after pill. In the United Kingdom, a registrar was told she had to participate in same-sex marriages. When she objected, she was dismissed. Also, in 2012 the UK’s General Medical Council said doctors must be prepared to go against their consciences in matters like the morning-after pill, abortions, and gender-reassignment surgeries. When a British with a private bed and breakfast denied a room to a homosexual couple, they had to pay up to 4,000 Euros. In Belguim, owners of wedding locations are required to facilitate gay marriages in their venues. In France, medical students find is easier to steer clear of gynecology since “it is almost impossible to graduate without doing an abortion.” In Spain, a restaurant owner had to pay 12,000 Euros because he refused to host the celebration of a same-sex union in his restaurant. In Ireland, pharmacists who morally object to selling the morning after pill must take their employer to court. Since this is financially unfeasible for many, they either sell them to keep their jobs or quit. Civil registrars can be jailed for 6 months for refusing to officiate same-sex ceremonies.


Discriminatory Equality Laws

European equality laws are being pushed in the private sector, requiring business owners to adhere to policies contrary to their conscience and to violate their freedom of religion. While these equalities laws sound like they are impartial, “practice shows that it is very often Christians who are taken to court.” In the United Kingdom, Christians trying to become foster parents have faced discrimination when the interview process revealed that they would not approve homosexual behavior of the children given to their care. Their views did not reflect the “diversity” necessary to be a foster care home. The parliament of Denmark ruled in June 2012 that the Evangelical Lutheran Church must officiate same-sex marriage ceremonies within their churches. While priests can refuse to perform the ceremony, they must provide a replacement. In Ireland, churches may also face fines for refusing to open up their facilities to same-sex couples.


Curbing Free Speech

Legislation on “hate-speech” has regulated what Christians in Europe are free to express, whether or not their speech is “inciting violence.” “For European Christians, two main areas of prosecution for critical speech are noticeable: Islam and homosexuality.” In the United Kingdom, a Muslim claimed to be insulted in a private conversation with a Christian couple, for which the Christians were prosecuted. Just last week, an American street-preacher at Wimbledon was arrested for “using homophobic speech that could cause people anxiety, distress, alarm or insult.” In France, all discriminatory speech against homosexuality is forbidden, including publically calling it a sin.  In Sweden, a person can go to jail for up 2 years if he is found to have agitated a national or ethnic group.



Limiting Parental Rights

With more Europeans schools teaching concepts like “Transvestite sensitivity” and “pro-homosexual orientation,” many Christian parents want to homeschool their children. For some Christian families, this is becoming very difficult. In Belgium, there is no parental consent needed for underage girls to get an abortion, unless she needs full anesthesia. In Germany, homeschooling is prohibited, under penalty of fines or jail time. In Sweden, opting out of public school sex education is not an option, even though parents object to the curriculum’s explicit images and exclusion of abortion risks and abstinence education.



Restricting Freedom to Assemble and Associate

These restrictions are often unequally applied and discriminatory against Christian groups. For instance, anti-religious, radical feminist and LGBT activists have interrupted Christian events and prayer meetings in Germany with actions such as chanting “If Mary had had an abortion, we would have been spared people like you,” along with “overbearing noise to make public speaking impossible. (Sound familiar, Texans?) Yet governments are increasing restrictions against peaceable actions such as praying in front of abortion facilities.  In Austria, pro-life picketers were ordered to pay fines for “stalking.”


But the problem isn’t just across the pond. As the waters of progressive social change continue to boil, intolerance against Christians is steeping into our own nation. And with anti-religious temperatures on the rise, it’s only getting stronger. Consider these recent cases of religious discrimination in the United States:


Limiting Conscientious Objection

  • A nurse was forced to be a part of an abortion procedure, against her conscience, and under threat of termination and losing her nursing license.[1]
  • The Board of Pharmacy in Washington buckled to political pressure when they ordered pharmacists to dispense abortifacient drugs against their conscience. The dissenting pharmacists eventually won their case.[2]
  • In New Jersey, nursing students are required to participate in abortion procedures, regardless of whether it goes against their personal beliefs.[3]
  • Religious leaders continue to lobby against the implications of the Affordable Care Act, which would require businesses and religious non-profits to provide insurance plans that include abortion-inducing drugs.


Discriminatory Equality Practices

  • A Christian photography company in New Mexico declined to photograph a ceremony for a same-sex couple. They company was sued and ordered to pay over $6,000 in attorney’s fees.[4]
  • A 2011 study from The National Religious Broadcasters showed that major social media sites censored Christian views. Among all of the major players, like Facebook, Google, and iTunes Apple Store, “There’s actually a pattern of anti-Christian censorship.” Twitter was the only exception.
  • Last month, a student was ordered by her university to remove or hide her cross necklace so that she wouldn’t offend others.
  • A Wisconsin high school actually cancelled a Diversity Day, rather than include Christians and former homosexual students along with other religious groups and sexual identifications.



Curbing Free Speech

  • Pastors trying to share the gospel with Muslims in Dearborn, MI had to apply for a permit to preach. The City of Dearborn also said that in order to get a permit, they had to sign away their constitutional rights as US citizens.[5]
  • In 2011, An Ohio man was arrested for preaching in public without a permit.
  • man was fired from Cisco Systems, Inc. for believing that marriage should be between a man and a woman. After being hired to a conduct leadership program among the company’s managers, one of the managers (who was gay) in the class discovered that he wrote a book expressing his beliefs. Although he never expressed his opinion at work, the company fired him without even speaking to him. Apparently, the man’s only fault was having an opinion that offended a gay employee.
  • A high school freshman chose to write on Jesus Christ for her open-topic research paper at school. But the teacher did not approve her subject and gave her a zero for the assignment, without the opportunity to re-write it. The court ruled in favor of the school.[6]



Limiting Parental Rights

  • The Department of Justice denied asylum to a German family that came to the US in order to homeschool their children according to their Christian beliefs. According to the DOJ, “Teaching tolerance to children of all backgrounds helps to develop the ability to interact as a fully functioning citizen of Germany.”
  • In April, a federal judge ruled that morning-after pills like Plan B be available over the counter to women of all ages, making the drug accessible without a prescription and without parental consent.



Restricting Freedom to Assemble and Associate

  • Last week, a man was arrested in Arizona for having a Bible study in his home “without a permit.” Along with a $12,000 fine, he has been jailed for 60 days.
  • In Balch Springs, TX, senior citizens were told they couldn’t pray before their meals in the city’s senior citizens’ center. After they sued the city, the seniors were told that, if they won, they would no longer receive government-funded meals.[7]
  • A Georgia man was arrested for handing out tracts at a fairground for allegedly violating the city’s policy that he have a permit (which actually applied only to organizations or groups of three people or more). Not only was the man never permitted to read the policy, he was also never given the opportunity to get an attorney before he stood trial and was convicted.[8]
  • Last summer, a Chicago Alderman attempted to block Chick-fil-A from building in the city because of the president’s personal stance on homosexuality.


Sadly, it appears that Christians in America are not far from the kind of cultural hostility and religious discrimination that our brothers and sisters are experiencing in Europe. But before we hang our heads in despair or shake our fists in frustration, we can’t forget that we just might be on the verge of unprecedented growth and unparalleled opportunity to speak the gospel with boldness. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:12-13). With cultural persecution on the horizon, when compromise has never been so convenient, may we be remembered as those who chose to stand.


[1]“The Survey of Religious Hostility in America,” Liberty Institute, (Plano: Liberty Institute, 2012), 8.

[2]Ibid., 9.

[3]Ibid., 47.

[4]Ibid., 10.


[6]Ibid., 65.

[7]Ibid., 12.

[8]Ibid., 11.