BOISE — A resolution decrying the persecution of Christians worldwide is headed to the House floor.
Sponsored by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, House Resolution 6 says “there is a growing crisis of persecution and genocide against Christians underway,” and declares the Legislature’s support to freedom of religion for all, including Christians. It “calls for an end to Christian persecution, and calls on every government to recognize the fundamental rights of Christians to practice their faith without persecution or fear of death, rape, imprisonment, forced marriage, or physical violence.”
The Democrats on the House State Affairs Committee made an unsuccessful attempt to send the bill to the House’s amending order, expressing concerns about singling out one religion for protection or about possibly endorsing religious practices such as faith healing that can harm others. The resolution then passed out of committee on a party-line vote, with the Republicans in favor and the Democrats opposed.
Giddings said she thought it was a good idea to highlight Christianity since it is the world’s largest religion and has the highest number of adherents being killed worldwide for their faith. She gave several other examples of times when the Idaho Legislature has passed a resolution highlighting a specific faith, such as one last year highlighting the contributions of Catholics to Idaho and one in 2015 calling on the Turkish government not to harass the Orthodox Church.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, who made the motion to amend the resolution, asked several questions related to the definition of a religion. Gannon has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation in the past to get rid of the exemption in Idaho law that shields parents who believe in faith healing from prosecution if their children die treatable illnesses. Numerous such deaths have been documented in Idaho in recent years, many connected to the Followers of Christ church, but attempts to change the law have stalled due to many Republican lawmakers’ concerns about parental rights and religious freedom.
Giddings said her resolution isn’t related to that.
“It’s a very different and sensitive issue, and it’s not what I’m trying to address here,” she said.
Paul Rolig, the head of Humanists of Idaho, urged the committee either to hold the resolution or amend it to include all faiths more explicitly. He pointed to the white nationalist shootings at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018, where 11 people were killed, and at a mosque in New Zealand earlier this month.
“Fifty Muslims were killed in their places of worship and the Idaho House resolves that only Christians should not be persecuted?” he asked.
Rolig also objected to some of the examples of persecution of Christians in America Giddings gave during the bill’s introductory hearing last week, such as cases where businesses have been forced to serve same-sex couples.
“That is not freedom of religion,” he said. “That is weaponizing your religion to persecute others.”
In response to questions from Reps. Brooke Green, D-Boise, and Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, Rolig said some atheists in Idaho worry about losing their jobs due to their lack of belief. He also gave examples of Jews and Muslims feeling persecuted in Idaho, pointing to instances where the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise has been defaced by racist graffiti.
“A Muslim friend of mine told me he walks around feeling (as) though he has a target on his back because of the anti-Muslim sentiment spread by some of the preachers who have been invited to town just recently,” Rolig told Scott.
Scott, who has been a critic of refugee resettlement, invited that anti-Islam pastor, Shahram Hadian, to give a presentation at the statehouse earlier this year. In late 2015, when the presidential election, terrorist attacks and a movement to shut down Twin Falls’ refugee center had brought the issue to the forefront, Scott sent out an email calling for a special legislative session to deal with the issue and casting the resettlement of Muslim refugees as a deliberate attempt to change America’s demographics.
“Islam has a specific doctrine on migration called Al-Hijra,” Scott wrote at the time. “It teaches that Muslims are to migrate in groups to other countries as part of waging jihad. They segregate themselves into communities and grow until they are large enough to start demanding their ‘rights’ and specifically Shari’ah law.”
Green said her husband, who is an Ada County sheriff’s deputy and the department’s liaison to Boise’s refugee community, has had to stand guard at the local mosque before due to threats.
“It does exist,” Green said. “This resolution brings forward and says Christians are being persecuted. There are a number of religions in our community who do feel they are being persecuted for practicing their religion. This resolution unfortunately elevates one over another.”