International Religious Freedom Day: Freedom Today Doesn’t Guarantee Freedom Tomorrow

by Daniela Ellerbeck
28 October 2016

by Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA

October 27th is designated as “International Religious Freedom Day”.  This day commemorates the execution of the Boston martyrs, a group of Quakers martyred by the Puritans on Boston Common for their religious beliefs under the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1659–1661.  It is a sharp reminder of the lesson of history that religious freedom is always threatened when there is an alignment and conjunction of the Church and State, even though this may initially appear benign. 

According to the European Union’s special envoy, Jan Figel, “up to 75% of the world’s population” is not granted freedom of faith. A 2016 study by Pew Research Centre has found that Christians are the most persecuted of any religious group in the world, facing harassment in 108 countries. It is estimated that 8,000 Christians are martyred every year. Considering that there are approximately 2.3 million Christians worldwide, this means that every hour of every day, a person dies because of their faith in Jesus Christ. According to Charity Open Doors further, around 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged in the last year. 

It is equally sobering to note that even in nations where religious freedom used to be taken for granted, there is an increasing erosion of religions rights.  This week, the Appeal Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, ruled that the owners of Asher’s Bakery could be forced to bake (ice) a cake with the statement “Support Gay Marriage”, even though this message is in direct conflict with the owners’ sincerely held religious beliefs (that ‘marriage’ is the life-long union of one man and one woman). It would seem that you can now be forced to promote ideas that you may fundamentally disagree with! This highlights the fact that, unless we are vigilant and vigorously contend for our freedom to believe, teach, preach and live out our faith, we are in real danger of living in a society where this is seriously curtailed. 

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has the privilege of representing millions of people who belong to the faith community, and we are committed to ensure that our religious rights are secured for generations to come.  We are establishing a growing capacity to monitor, review and redress every area where religious rights are under threat.  We are unwavering in our commitment to protect and preserve our religious freedom, so that we can continue to live in a South Africa where all people are free to celebrate and live out their faith – and to celebrate Religious Freedom Day!

Support FOR SA

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is dedicated to protecting and preserving the freedoms and rights that the South African Constitution has granted to the faith community. This year, we will be working hard to ensure that the proposed new “Hate Crimes” legislation (which will include a broadening of the definition of “hate speech”) does not secretly demolish this precious freedom of speech in South Africa. You can join this struggle and help FOR SA protect our freedom by:

• Praying for us as we defend this precious freedom before government and courts of law
• Signing up (at no cost) to FOR SA at and subscribing to our Newsletter
• Following us, and sharing our posts, on Facebook @Freedom of Religion SA
• Informing us, should you become aware of any case in which religious freedom is threatened
• Making a financial contribution to FOR SA

As a non-profit organisation, we are entirely dependent upon God’s grace for finances. Your generosity will help make a significant difference as we work to fulfil our mission to keep the doors open for the Gospel by advocating for religious freedom. We appreciate every gift, big or small!

Michael was raised in England, graduating from the University of Bristol with an honours degree in Law before immigrating to South Africa in 1983. He has been a successful businessman as well as having spent over 30 years in ministry in South Africa, Europe and the USA. He serves as the Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA).