State Politics

Idaho House defeats bill calling for end to Christian persecution: ‘Let us be better’

Following an emotional debate, the Idaho House on Wednesday defeated a resolution “to recognize the fundamental rights of Christians to practice their faith without persecution or fear of death, rape, imprisonment, forced marriage, or physical violence.”

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, told the House that her bill “declares its support for the fundamental rights and religious freedom of all people. And it includes Christians globally and in the United States. And it calls for an end to Christian persecution. ... The primary basis of this resolution is to bring awareness to Christian persecution that is happening all over the world.”

Lawmakers who spoke against House resolution 6 noted that it does not reflect that all religions should be protected.

“This resolution is so explicitly targeted to Christians. It contains the word Christian 10 times in the resolution while nowhere acknowledging the need to protect others from discrimination,” said Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise.

“The reason I am an American citizen is because of discrimination and brutal violence against Jews. My father’s family came here in the late 1800s to escape brutal pogroms against the Jewish people where they faced rape, arson, murder routinely. My mother’s family came here in the middle of World War II to escape the Nazis.”

Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, who also is Jewish, said, “This is not a religious persecution bill, this is a Christian persecution bill.”

“Anti-Semitism is rising around the globe. By omission this bill says Jewish lives are not as important as Christian lives,” Berch said. “The 50 Muslims, non-Christians, who were massacred in New Zealand, by omission this bill says those non-Christian lives aren’t as important as Christian lives. Every one of us has constituents in our districts of multiple faiths, and by omission this bill says the lives of those constituents are not as important as Christian constituents.”

In addition to the House’s 14 Democrats, 25 Republicans also voted no, leading to the bill’s defeat in a 39-31 vote.

Choking back tears, Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, told the House: “I stand today as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of my faith have been persecuted for not being Christian enough. And that we would stand today and debate a resolution that calls out one particular faith is disheartening to me when we know that worldwide there is religious persecution everywhere regardless of your affiliation.”

“Let us be better than that,” Raybould continued. “Let us say we are against all religious persecution. Not just Christian persecution, but all religious persecution. That is my challenge to this body today. I ask for us to be better.”

Republican Rep. Gary Marshall, Rexburg, said he would not support the bill because “it sends the wrong message.”

“I am a strong Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ,” Marshall said. “But I am in favor of freedom of religion in the way that the founding generation believed it. In the way that we have always believed it in this country.”

Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. John Green, R-Post Falls, explained, “trying to include every religion in this resolution is not the right course of action.”

“I am against all religious discrimination,” he said. “But this one calls out Christianity. I condemn persecution of Christians just as I would condemn persecution of anyone for their faith. So are we going to say no to acknowledging that Christians are persecuted by voting no on this or are we going to acknowledge that Christian persecution happens?”

Following the debate, Giddings told the body that maybe she did not clearly explain the intent of her resolution, which did not seek to change law or policy.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence are rooted in the fundamental truth that all people are created equal, endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” she said.

“It just reminds you how great America really is,” Giddings continued. “All the more reason why I just wanted to bring awareness to this problem. We have such luxury here. Freedom. Such a luxury.”

Giddings explained Christianity is the largest religion in the world and it also has the most people who are persecuted.

“Some of the top countries, the first top country, North Korea, the second top country, Afghanistan,” she said. “Places where I have been. I have seen, I have talked to the people who have been persecuted and are fleeing.

“I am not trying to target anyone. Just starting at the top.”

Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named Idaho Press Club reporter of the year in 2017 and 2008. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.