John Marsh’s Panel Discussion


4:30 Plenary Topic #3 Legal Structures of Persecution and Religious Discrimination Panel

Thank you. On behalf of the founder of the Barnabas organization and its international director, the Cor Episcopos the Very Reverend Doctor Patrick Sookhdeo, we are thankful for this opportunity to shine light on the topic of Legal Structures of Persecution and Religious Discrimination. Dr. Sookhdeo cannot be here today because of the Covid travel restrictions, but as Chairman of the US division of Barnabas, I am pleased to provide a perspective of this vital topic on which Barnabas has participated for many years.

It has been said by others that crises provide opportunities that may not have previously existed. It is clear today’s world continues to experience an unprecedented number of crises, so what then are the opportunities that may be resounding from these crises?.

American pastor, Chuck Swindoll in a recent message framed it this way:

“we are fall faced with a series of great opportunities … … brilliantly disguised as impossible situations”1


So, what then are the ‘Impossible Situations” we are facing that may be disguising great opportunities?

First there are what appear to be significant national laws such as in Asia (China), South Asia (Pakistan, India) and the Middle East which prohibit the free exercise of religion. We characterize these laws as blasphemy laws, laws pertaining to national security and laws pertaining to the conversion of people from one religion to another religion.

In many cases, such as was the case with Asia Bibi, people are intimidated, arrested, jailed for extended periods and may ultimately receive punishments based on their desire for religious self-expression. These actions caused an Indian Christian organization to say, “the justice system has often FAILED to defend the rights of persecuted Christians and other minority religions” 2

Another Impossible Situation is caused by laws which support disinformation and hateful rhetoric and often target religious minorities. Campaigns of this type embolden intimidation, harassment, and mob violence, against various religious minorities The recent report of US Commission on International Religious Freedom (ISCIRF) said that the “worst Hindu-Muslim mob violence in more than three decades left more than 50 people dead and 200 injured in February {2020]. (USCIRF, p22)

Similarly in China, laws restrict religious behaviors, and underground church participation. An advanced surveillance state in China subjects people to a social credits system designed to coerce them to comply with behavior deemed proper by the state.3 Non-conforming churches are destroyed and church leaders arrested and jailed. The USCIRF reported that China has increased its international pressure on religious freedom and human rights by intensifying efforts for the “sinicization (Si′ni·ci·za′tion) of religion” in general and specifically targeting Christian, Muslim and Buddhist minority groups. (USCIRF p16)

Another Situation is caused by state level anti-conversion laws in India which serve the country’s Hindu-nationalist perspective and prohibit conversions to religions apart from the state sponsored religion. “About one-third of India’s 28 states limit or prohibit religious conversion to protect the dominant religion from perceived threats from religious minorities.” (USCIRF p23)

In addition to these infringements of religious freedom in Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, the legislatures and courts in Western nations have also been creating and enforcing laws which limit the freedom of religious practice.


Our position in the Barnabas organization has been to support and protect persecuted people but to feel free to critique the ideologies that bring that persecution about. Forums such as this allow us to justly critique the ideologies behind the legal structures which have fomented the current crises in religious discrimination and persecution. But these same legal structures can also be used to turn these crises around and provide a “series of great opportunities” for the good of all people.

1 Charles Swindoll, radio broadcast 7/21)

2 Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations, “Pandemic fuels Global Religions Freedom Concerns, World Mag, 4/23/2021)

3 In July, the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed Global Magnitsky sanctions against eight Chinese government entities and senior Chinese officials for their direct participation in the surveillance, mass detention, and forced labor of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. USCIRF p10