President affirms religious liberty; vaccine search

I am thankful to live in a nation that promotes religious freedom around the world. I am also grateful to be a member of a denomination that aggressively supports that effort. I applaud President Trump for signing an Executive Order June 2 that calls for the prioritization of international religious liberty in United States foreign policy and at least $50 million a year for programs that boost freedom for religious adherents worldwide. The president took that action just as Southern Baptists around the world paused June 7 to pray for Christians facing persecution around the world.

Prayers are needed. Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. More than 245 million Christians around the world face persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ, according to Christian Freedom International, a persecution watchdog organization. Christians face persecution in 144 out of the 190-plus countries in the world. More Christians have been martyred for their faith in the 20th and 21st centuries than in the previous 19 centuries combined.

President Trump’s action comes just days after suspected Islamic radicals killed at least 27 people, some of whom were burned alive, in a series of attacks on three villages that advocates say are predominantly inhabited by Christians in Central Mali. As horrible as that incident was, persecution against Christians in Mali pales in comparison to what Christians face in communist China and in dictatorships like North Korea. Observers will tell you that persecution is rapidly spreading across sub-Saharan Africa as well.

The order President Trump signed declares religious freedom is “a moral and national security imperative” and the U.S. will “respect and vigorously promote this freedom” worldwide. It builds on a 2017 National Security Strategy that views religious freedom “not as a creation of the state, but as a gift of God to every person” and a fundamental right for “the flourishing of our society.”

The order also:

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• Requires the State Department to develop a plan to prioritize international religious freedom in foreign policy and foreign assistance programs.

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• Assigns $50 million for the State Department and USAID to fund programs that promote and defend religious freedom abroad.

•Tells diplomats to step up efforts to hold countries accountable for violating religious freedom.

•Tells diplomats to raise concerns about individual cases of persecution.

• Instructs U.S. officials to ensure faith-based or religious groups are not discriminated against when it comes to foreign assistance programs and funding.

• Requires State Department employees to be trained in international religious freedom every three years.

• Highlights the Treasury Secretary’s ability to impose sanctions on people involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption.

President Trump’s order is in keeping with the views of Southern Baptists. The Baptist Faith & Message states: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends.” It goes on to say, “A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.”

Religious liberty is not religious toleration. Religious toleration is a privilege granted by man. Religious liberty is a right bestowed by God.

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The race is on to find a vaccine for COVID-19. The good news is that many of the world’s largest vaccine companies are developing promising vaccine candidates using ethically-derived cells. The bad news is that many of the leading vaccine candidates for the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) are being developed using fetal cell lines that were originally derived from the tissues of aborted babies in the 1970s and 80s.

With more than 6.2 million reported cases so far and more than 375,000 deaths worldwide, the burden of disease from the 2019 novel coronavirus continues to mount. And so does the urgency to find a cure. From big pharma to small biotech companies and universities, researchers have been pushing out dozens of vaccine candidates and have fast-tracked promising vaccine candidates to clinical trials in record time. Pharmaceutical companies are sprinting to have a vaccine ready by the end of the year or by early 2021.

According to a tracker from the World Health Organization, there are now more than 120 vaccine candidates in development. 

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