Sunday, July 03, 2011

Religious persecution is not just something that happens "over there"

We all know that our brothers and sisters are persecuted around the world. The case of Youcef Nadarkhani, sentenced to death by the despotic regime of Iran, is a stark reminder that persecution is going on right now and that our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are suffering daily. They need and demand our prayer. Lest we pull a muscle patting ourselves on the back for how free we are here and how glad we are not live "there", it is worth a reminder that America has not always lived up to her lofty rhetoric about religious freedom and tolerance. I am not talking about the faux persecution that people toss about, normally as a callous ploy to gain political support. Not having a monument with the Ten Commandments on it on public land is not "persecution". There has been persecution in this country, real persecution, and it rarely gets much mention.

As I was reading Guy Hershberger's War, Peace, and Nonresistance the other night I was reminded of the events of World War I. We are often told the story of the Japanese internment camps in World War II but there was a great deal of less publicized persecution going on in World War I. While there was widespread persecution against American citizens who for religious reasons who unwilling to militarily support the war effort in World War , one event stands out: the imprisonment and torture of Jacob Wipf and Joseph, Michael, and David Hofer.

These four men, Hutterites from South Dakota, were conscripted into the Army to fight a foolish war but refused to serve because of their religious convictions, convictions protected under the First Amendment. In response these men were imprisoned and kept in horrific conditions, malnourished and mistreated. After being transferred from Alcatraz to Leavenworth, they continued to be tortured which eventually led to the deaths of two of the men, Joseph and Michael Hofer. Even after the deaths of these two men, the other two men continued to be imprisoned although they were treated marginally better. They were eventually released. Fortunately the mistreatment and martyrdom of these men led to improved conditions for religious conscientious objectors in World War II but the fact remains, buried in the history of this country, that less than 100 years ago the government of the United States imprisoned and tortured four men, leading to the deaths of two of them, for standing by their religious convictions.

For a full treatment of the events of World War I and the imprisonment of Jacob Wipf and the Hofer brothers, check out this article from The Plough, Persecution in the Land of the Free.

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