Gary Lane, director of news services for Voice of the Martyrs, recently spoke in a worship service about a young family member injured by terrorism on a warm Tuesday morning. He had gone outdoors to study in the cool breeze. He didn't see the plane coming. Otherwise, he would have run.

Four bombs dropped on Holy Cross School in the Kauda region of Sudan that day in February 2000. Twenty-three were killed. Most of the dead were between 8- and 15 years old. Addil, 11, lost his arm.

"He was not a victim at the World Trade Center, but of another type of terror," Lane told Christianity Today. "That is terror of our family members because they are Christian. There hasn't been much attention to international persecution matters since September 11. My concern right now is that we don't turn so inward that we forget about our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world."

Lane is not the only policy observer concerned that religious liberty efforts will be forgotten. The Bush administration is seeking support from countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, which have been criticized in previous years by the U.S. State Department for religious rights infringements.

The United States Committee on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) voiced concern to President Bush on Friday that "in forging alliances against terrorism, the United States [would] compromise its commitment to human rights—including religious freedom—and democracy. We oppose policy tradeoffs."

Robert Seiple, president and founder of the Institute for Global Engagement and former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, told Christianity Today that religious freedom will likely drop in priority.

"One thing you lose in these circumstances is nuance," he said. "You are left with only broad designations of 'good' or 'evil.'"

Sudan and Faustian pacts

Observers are watching key areas, including U.S. relations with Sudan and the release of the State Department's annual Report on International Religious Freedom, to evaluate the effect September 11 will have.

"There's certainly those who feel the lift of the U.N. sanctions on Sudan is a bad sign," said Lawrence J. Goodrich, director of communications for the USCIRF. "But that was underway before September 11. And those sanctions were largely symbolic."

He pointed out that U.S. economic sanctions have not yet been lifted. President Bush has also sent an envoy for peace into Sudan. "The administration is saying a lot of the right things [regarding protecting human rights], but we have to make sure that deeds and words match ," Goodrich said.

Article continues below

The State Department report was due September 1. Goodrich said it is understandable that the attacks would delay it further.

Nina Shea, director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom and a commissioner of USCIRF, fears religious freedoms are being bargained away.

"I'm concerned that there may be some people in the administration that would make a Faustian pact in exchange for intelligence, or to conduct military exercises within their borders, or in order to recruit them into an alliance," Shea told CT.

She said that her concerns were heightened when the administration stopped pushing the Sudan Peace Act in Congress and gave approval for U.N. sanctions to be dropped. The United Nations Security Council removed five-year-old sanctions on Sudan on September 28. The United States abstained from the vote.

"We've lost ground on Sudan since September 11," Shea said. Despite Sudan's claims to join the war on terrorism, she said, terror continues in the country.

On October 2, the USCIRF issued a four-point set of policy recommendations to former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), the U.S. envoy to Sudan. The recommendations said that in order to uphold "basic human rights and religious freedom," the Bush administration must demand that Sudan agree to a cease-fire, lift food-relief bans, and commit to peace talks.

Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, told CT that without knowing all the information, Christians are not able to judge the government's balancing of human rights and security.

"We are not in a position to second-guess the decision-makers unless we are privy to the intelligence information as they are," Knippers said. "Our government has a moral obligation to national security right now."

Knippers said if the U.S. could hypothetically obtain the names of individuals planning another attack, "then of course, we need those names. If that means holding the Sudan Peace Act for a year, then that is what we have to do to protect ourselves."

The Christian role now is to keep religious liberty in the picture, she said. "The government must know there is a strong constituency that cares about this and then it will strengthen their hand to do so," Knippers said.

Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, now head of American Values, hopes the State Department will realize the war on terrorism can only be won with human rights as a central part of foreign policy.

Article continues below

He compared the current situation to the World War II alliance with Communist Russia. "Then, there was no question that the Soviet Union was on our side," Bauer said. "Today, places like Sudan are clearly on the side of the terrorists. Fooling ourselves by making inappropriate concessions to include them in an alliance doesn't make sense."

A new importance

Richard Land, president of Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a commissioner of the USCIRF, agrees that protecting religious liberty is central now.

"What I hope is going to happen is that people will realize through this that the best long-time defense against actions like this is freedom of conscience and religious freedom," he said.

USCIRF's Goodrich said that fighting terrorism and promoting human rights are closely connected. "Countries where there is religious tolerance and freedom are not countries harboring terrorists," he said. "Thus the idea that we can engage in this conflict without relating it to core values is mistaken."

Seiple told CT that the September 11 attacks only made religious freedom more relevant.

"What we know for sure—if we didn't before—was that people are willing to die for their faith and kill for their religion," Seiple said. "But yet we ignore it all for geopolitical relations. We need to understand religion. It should be front and center in policy discussions now."

There's more at risk than broad policy questions, though, said Mark Albrecht, moderator of the World Evangelical Fellowship Religious Liberty Commission. Individual lives hang in the balance.

Since 1996, Ayub Masih has been languishing in a Pakistan prison on blasphemy charges. His case has reached the Pakistani Supreme Court. The Religious Liberty Commission had launched a letter-writing campaign. But after September 11, it is hard to cultivate interest in Masih's struggle.

"I hope we can do something, but I fear that the Pakistani Supreme Court put it on the back burner and shut off the stove," Albrecht said.

Voice of the Martyrs' Lane told CT that perhaps Americans will now be more aware of international terror.

"We are praying that we will wake up and see that … this is what Christians live with every day," Lane told CT. "Six thousand were killed here in one day, but people have lived with this in Sudan for 18 years, and 2 million have died. We have to say, 'Hey, America, this is a taste of what the world lives with.'"

Todd Hertz is the Assistant Online Editor for Christianity Today.