Every day millions of Christians around the world are persecuted for their faith. They are often intimidated, abused and in fear for their lives all because of their commitment to Christ.
The Pew Research Centre Report, which analyses religious freedom in 198 countries and territories, reveals that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today.
Research shows a staggering 11 Christians every hour are being slaughtered for their faith – 100,000 Christian martyrs a year. In the last couple of weeks alone, there were attacks on Christians at a church in Nigeria with 32 deaths; in the Philippines an attack killed more than 20 Christians, not to mention the eight dead in a Somalia market attack and the nine dead in Egypt.
But is intolerance of Christians slowly creeping into our western societies? Is faith being pushed out of public life in countries such as Australia, the UK and America? Is it time Christians took more of a stand to reclaim their rightful place in our society? If so, how should Christians tackle this issue?
This and other correlating issues will be addressed in ‘Religious Freedom at the Crossroads – The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment in the West’ – a timely legal conference to be held at Sheridan College in Perth, Western Australia, from June 14-15.
Facebook, however, believes that material relating to a conference on religious freedom violates their ‘community standards, so no one else can see it’. Facebook has arbitrarily censored this significant event.
Consider that this is not just another conference. Our list of speakers includes some our finest legal minds in Australia. This is an important legal event and we intend to publish conference proceedings in The Western Australian Jurist law journal, the yearly blind peer-reviewed academic publication of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA).
Our list of participants – speakers and moderators –includes some of the finest legal minds in Australia; Christopher Brohier, Martyn Isles, John Steinhoff, among numerous others. Participating as moderators are some of the most distinguished members, both past and present, of the Western Australia parliament, including former speaker Michael Sutherland.
Our keynote speaker is none other than a leading American constitutional lawyer – the Distinguished Professor Emeritus William Wagner of Western Michigan University, Thomas Cooley Law School. He is an internationally recognised expert in constitutional law and good governance and a renowned American constitutional lawyer who has received the Beattie Award for Teaching Excellence for making the greatest contribution to student legal education.
Professor Wagner’s public service includes serving as a Federal Judge in the United States Courts, legal counsel in the U.S. Senate, senior assistant United States attorney in the Department of Justice, and as an American diplomat. He is the author of numerous articles, books and other publications, including a national best seller; number one in its category.
As lead amicus counsel in many matters before the U.S. Supreme Court, Professor Wagner authored briefs on behalf of various Christian organisations. He also authored written briefs, testimony and evidence in such forums as the Swedish Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress, and the British parliament. He has addressed many executive, legislative, parliamentary, and judicial audiences throughout the world, and presented at various diplomatic forums including the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Above all, this eminent legal academic has a special interest in building and preserving environments where Christian people may share the Gospel free from persecution and oppression.
Despite all these distinguished speakers and moderators, Facebook has just arbitrarily censored our major legal conference. Indeed, Facebook refuses to allow anyone to post information about this conference. It simply claims that our conference has somehow ‘violated community standards’.
For example, a law professor has tried to announce the conference on his Facebook. His announcement was rejected. This is what he wrote in a private message to me: “This Facebook blocking nonsense is appalling. I tried to share the link on the Facebook page connected to my blog but it came up with an “error”.”
The good professor was not the only one facing the censorship of our religious freedom conference.
When one of our speakers posted that it was an honour for him to present a paper at such prestigious conference, Facebook immediately prevented him from doing so Facebook. His message was immediately blocked and our speaker was informed that no such announcement could be made because our conference allegedly ‘goes against [Facebook’s] Community Standards, so no one can see it’.
This is absolutely appalling and it objectively constitutes an egregious instance of censorship of ideas on social media.
A propos, Facebook was in the international spotlight last year after an investigation by the U.S. Congress on this social media. During his seven-hour testimony at the joint session of the U.S. Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked whether Facebook has been engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship. His answer was a rather careful non-answer which made many Christians and conservatives really wonder whether this could work as evidence that Facebook is a platform for only certain types of ideas.
One might also wonder if all this censoring and removing of conservative and Christian content by social media might not have been aggravated by the recent announcement by the Morrison government that Australia is to become the first country in the world to introduce jail terms and multimillion-dollar fines for social media giants that do not quickly remove so-called ‘extremist’ material on social media.
Alarmingly, the Prime Minister has manifested his support for the regulation of social media companies if they fail to act against the use of their platforms for spreading so called “extremism”.
I am totally unimpressed. This puts enormous pressure on the social media giants, which can obviously result in unreasonable levels of censorship of ‘controversial’ ideas, including those which are manifested by conservative Christians.
For we know very well that the radical left often labels as ‘right wing extremist’ anyone who might be situated on the conservative side of the ideological spectrum. This is particularly so when it comes to Christians who dare to express traditional ideas in the political realm.
These Christians are often labelled ‘extreme right’ for no other reason than advocating for conservative social values, including the sanctity of human life and the traditional definition of marriage.
Facebook has arbitrarily censored our conference. But I guess this only proves the whole point of the conference. There is indeed a considerable rise of anti-Christian sentiment across the globe, including in our western societies.
And I should add it’s not just religious freedom that is at stake. It is freedom of speech in general. Freedom of speech is definitely at the crossroads and Facebook has just proven this point beyond any reasonable doubt.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan College, Perth; Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Law School, Sydney and President of Western Australian Legal Theory Association, WALTA.
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