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Road to Damascus Wasn't Enough: Apostle Paul Questions Nearly Get Christian Deported

Asylum seekers keep getting denied for not knowing enough about Christianity. But judges keep giving them a second chance.
Road to Damascus Wasn't Enough: Apostle Paul Questions Nearly Get Christian DeportedWikimedia Commons
"Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus" by Hans Speckaert

A Chinese Christian's hopes for asylum in America now have new life, after an appellate court overturned a denial from a judge who found that the applicant's answers to questions about Christianity were "hesitant" and "evasive."

The case is the latest example of how immigration boards often deny refugees claiming persecution for not knowing enough about their religion—and how courts continue to reverse such rulings.

Chang Qiang Zhu's behavior began to suffer only after the immigration judge asked him specific questions, such as what form of persecution the Apostle Paul used against Christians and what year Paul converted to Christianity, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled. [Paul is currently the featured subject of the world's largest Bible class, hosted by Harvard University.]

"By inquiring of Zhu and expecting him to provide this extensive detail, virtually all of which he testified to accurately in any event, the [immigration judge] contravened our holding in Rizal v. Gonzales … which prohibits relying on a petitioner's lack of doctrinal knowledge as the basis for an adverse credibility determination or denying relief," wrote the three-judge panel, in a ruling highlighted by Religion Clause.

Distinguishing true and false claims of persecution is a challenge for asylum judges. Last year, employees from at least 10 law firms in New York City were charged with participating in a fraud ring that coached Chinese asylum applicants on how to falsely claim religious persecution.

But requiring those extensive details isn't allowed because persecuted Christians often lack access to religious training and literature, the State Department has decided. Canadian judges have also ruled in similar cases that religious knowledge "cannot be equated to faith."

Zhu's immigration judge, Barbara Nelson, denied about 60 percent of asylum applications between 2007 and 2012. Immigration judges in New York City denied less than 24 percent during that same time. Meanwhile, judges across the United States denied just over 50 percent of asylum claims during that period.

CT regularly reports on asylum seekers and refugees, including the interesting case of how the wrong answer to a Thanksgiving question nearly deported a tortured Chinese Christian. CT also noted repeated criticisms of how Canada tests the religious knowledge of refugees.

CT also noted the European Union's approval of a new type of religious refugee, and the case of a German Christian family granted asylum in the U.S. over homeschooling restrictions.

CT has also mapped out where today's asylum seekers and refugees come from and where they go.

Posted:February 28, 2014 at 7:55AM
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