This past week, Christians around the world celebrated Holy Week, which culminated on Sunday with Easter. This is a time when we gather with our family and friends to remember the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Easter is about reflecting on the events that led to this treasured weekend. It is about remembering that Jesus was not just an extraordinary individual but he was and is the son of God. It is about remembering the gifts of his resurrection, which we continue to receive each and every day.
One of the important ways we celebrate Easter is through attending church. It is a practice many of us take part in each and every week, but there always seems to be a little extra excitement in the air on Easter.
Sadly, for many Christians around the world, Easter is an especially dangerous time. It is a time when some extremist groups target Christians just because of their religious beliefs.
A few weeks ago, on Palm Sunday, the terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility for tragic bombings outside two churches in Egypt. At least 45 people died and over 120 were injured in this horrific act of violence.
I joined many other officials from around the world in putting out a public statement strongly condemning the bombings. The thought that Christians, simply heading to church at the start of Holy Week, would be targeted for their religious beliefs is terrifying and should embolden the world to fight back against this religious persecution.
Since being elected to Congress, I have made it a priority to bring attention to the heartbreaking reality of religious persecution that takes place around the globe. Whether it is attacks like we saw in Egypt or the false imprisonment of religious leaders, we must draw attention to these injustices.
The Middle East – the very areas where Jesus once walked – is now ground zero for Christian persecution. For example, in 2013, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq; that number is now down to less than 275,000.
A major step toward cutting down on religious persecution is to defeat radical Islamic extremist groups like ISIS. These groups refuse to coexist with any group of people who have different views than they do. Many of these extremists believe it is their job to rid the earth of Christians and other religions, so we must act against them.
I will note that we are making important progress in the fight against ISIS.
Just last week, President Donald Trump ordered our military to drop the strongest non-nuclear bomb we have on an ISIS network in Afghanistan. The operation succeeded in disrupting a system of underground tunnels and caves that ISIS used to plan and execute attacks.
In addition to using our military and allies to combat ISIS, we must also focus on other diplomatic and cultural tools to combat extremism.
For example, during a recent trip to the nation of Singapore in the Pacific Ocean, I saw firsthand the work they are doing to reduce radicalization in their Muslim community. A key focus is on encouraging understanding and peace between those with different beliefs.
In a sign of diplomatic progress, last year the United States officially declared that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians and other religions. This declaration is actually incredibly rare, and it has helped build international support for combatting ISIS and their brutal tactics.
As your Congressman, I am going to continue bringing attention to these issues, and I encourage each of you to also do your part to bring an end to Christian persecution.
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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.