Chris Smith Slams Biden Administration’s ‘Retreat’ from Religious Liberty

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Rep. Chris Smith speaks as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on The Biden Administration's Priorities for U.S. Foreign Policy on Capitol Hill on March 10, 2021 in Washington, DC. Blinken is expected to take questions about …
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U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has blasted a decision by the U.S. State Department to remove Nigeria from its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), calling the move “a retreat from the noble and necessary fight to protect victims of religious persecution.”

Smith noted this week that Genocide Watch has called Nigeria a “killing field of defenseless Christians” while the Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors ranked Nigeria the world’s ninth most serious violator of religious freedom, stating that “more Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country.”

In May, the Tablet reported that thousands of Christians in Nigeria had been kidnapped and hundreds killed in just the first four months of 2021, noting a dangerous “escalation” in targeted violence against Nigeria’s Christian population.

The Nigeria-based Int’l Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law (Intersociety), a human rights group, also reported in May that Islamic jihadists had massacred 1,470 Christians in the first four months of 2021 and abducted over 2,200.

The 1,470 Christian deaths in those four months exceeded the total number of Christians killed in 2019, the report said.

A Catholic faithful holding a rosary attends a march on the streets of Abuja during a prayer and penance for peace and security in Nigeria in Abuja on March 1, 2020. The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria gathered the faithful as well as other Christians and other people to pray for security and to denounce the barbaric killings of Christians by the Boko Haram insurgents and the incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria. (KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty)

Smith said that “despite the fact that Fulani militants are systematically targeting and slaughtering Christian farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt as well as attacking non-Fulanis throughout the country with the apparent complicity or at least indifference of Nigerian authorities — a record that landed Nigeria on the CPC list last year — the State Department no longer identifies Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), nor even places Nigeria on its Special Watch List.”

In his rebuke to the State Department, Smith joined the non-partisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which said it was “appalled” at the decision.

USCIRF sharply criticized President Biden’s reversal, saying it was “unexplainable that the U.S. Department of State did not redesignate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) and treated it as a country with no severe religious freedom violations.”

As Breitbart News reported, the CEO of Open Doors USA, David Curry, called the State Department’s removal of Nigeria from the CPC list a “baffling error,” which is “likely in direct violation of the International Religious Freedom Act, the law that requires these designations to be made in the first place.”

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