This session, the Supreme Court may rule on a surprising yet important question: What constitutes religious persecution?
In the case Xue v. Sessions, Chinese immigrant Ting Xue is asking the Supreme Court to support his application for asylum in the U.S. as a refugee by acknowledging that he was subject to religious persecution in China. Alliance Defending Freedom submitted an amicus brief on Xue’s behalf.
Ting Xue was born and raised in China, where he attended an underground house church. During a worship service, the church was raided by the police, and all attendees were put in jail, where they were questioned, harassed, and held in incredibly unsanitary conditions. Xue was released after his mother paid a fine that was more than half of Xue’s annual income. Upon release, Xue was forced to participate in weekly “reeducation” and forced to sign a pledge that he would never return to his underground church.
After the church was raided yet again, Xue decided his safest plan of action was to leave the country entirely.
Xue applied for asylum in the U.S., professing past persecution and a fear of future persecution based on his religion. While acknowledging that Xue had experienced mistreatment in China, the immigration judge decided it did not amount to persecution, and subsequently denied Xue’s application for asylum. Xue appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, who agreed that Xue had not been persecuted for his religion because he wasn’t subject to cruel physical harm or danger of death.
The problem is, this reasoning runs completely counter to the founding principles our country holds most dear.
America was founded as a nation of refugees fleeing religious persecution. The Pilgrims flocked to America in pursuit of religious freedom. In the centuries since those first Pilgrims arrived, America has continued to pass immigration laws that include a special concern for refugees fleeing religious persecution.
This is the exact reason Ting Xue came to America.
In China, churches must register with one of five state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations, which are supervised by the State Administration for Religious Affairs and are limited to “normal religious activities.” In other words, the messages and doctrine of these state-registered churches are subject to state approval and regulation.
This leads many Christians in China to join underground churches and practice in secret so they can truly follow their religious convictions in worship and fellowship.
Practicing your religion in secret does not mean that you’re free to practice as long as you do so quietly and in your own home. Practicing in secret implies that there is a fear of punishment if you practice your religion publicly. And as Xue learned, being a member of an underground church opens the door for government harassment, obscene fines, and imprisonment.
As Judge Posner highlighted in the 7th Circuit’s opinion in Muhur v. Ashcroft, even Christians in the Roman Empire were safe from being thrown in the lion’s den as long as they practiced in secret; and yet, Rome will go down in history as an aggressive persecutor of Christians.
In America, we take for granted that we are able to attend (or not attend) a church of our choosing in public without fear of punishment. However, the exact opposite is a daily reality for Christians in China who do not want to practice a version of Christianity whose doctrine is being controlled by an atheistic government.
The Supreme Court has an opportunity to stand up and affirm America’s place as a home for those who do not have religious liberty in their own countries and as a safe haven for those who are forced to worship in secret for fear of government retribution.
A person barred from practicing their religion – a person like Xue – is the exact type of person America was founded to protect.