Defending the Cross

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: TIME's Richard Ostling reports that the State Department's first comprehensive report on worldwide religious persecution focuses on Christians more than other groups for the simple reason that Christians were the primary catalysts behind the study. "There are a lot of followers of various Christian groups who are especially concerned about the suppression of Christians in other countries. They have been the ones who have been lobbying in a concerted way over the past year to get some State Department action on the issue of religious persecution." Tuesday's report, which covered 78 countries over 83 pages, focused heavily on China, accusing it of trying to suppress Catholic and Protestant movements through threats, arrests and beatings, and of shutting down hundreds of "house churches" and demolishing property. It also expressed concern over heavily restrictive legislation proposed in Russia, which Boris Yeltsin vetoed today, citing constitutional concerns. Ostling notes that one of the reasons behind the Christian effort is a belief among them that the U.S. government has tended to neglect the tribulations of Christianity's followers over the years. "The groups that pushed for this report would grant that other religious groups, such as Buddhists, are having a hard time but nonetheless have received regular attention from the State Department over the years. They would argue Christians have not. As a result, they're trying to draw attention to a whole list of countries where Christians are being mistreated because of their religion." Ostling adds that the handover of Hong Kong to mainland China was also a factor in the pressure for action. "Another game going on here is Hong Kong. There is a lot of nervousness among Christians about what the mainland will do with it since it is the most important center of Christian activity in Asia. To these Christian groups, there is really a lot at stake here."