“I also have to reflect in a primary way and say that I thank God. I thank God that I can stand here and thank God and that I do not fear the fate of a dear colleague of ours only weeks ago, Shahbaz Bhatti, who for that crime paid the ultimate price. I thank God that we are an assembly where people can stand and say that they do not believe in God, that they can share equal ground in this place and that others beyond this place, who write and comment, can even ridicule either of those two positions and also not worry about that fate. Our forefathers paid a great price for that freedom.”
Before reading Stockwells address I had never heard about Shabaz Bhatti. I was intrigued and began looking up some information regarding him and about his martyrdom. A brief synopsis of Shabaz Bhatti is that he fought for religious freedom in Pakistan and against their blasphemy law that makes it a criminal offence to speak anything against the prophet Mohamed. For instance a Christian saying “Jesus is the son of God” is a blasphemous statement because it is counter to the teachings of Islam and therefore a blasphemous statement. Many Christians have been imprisoned and killed on account of this law and Shabaz Bhatti the sole Christian cabinet minister dedicated his life to seeing religious freedom for all people. On March 2nd Shabaz was gunned down on his way to a Cabinet meeting after leaving his mothers home. The Taliban claimed responsibility,”(The) assassination of Bhatti is a message to all of those who are against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws,” said Ihsanullah Ihsan, a Taliban spokesman.” Shahbaz believed he was doing the work of God, he knew that Christian responsibility extended not only to other Christian believers but to all people being persecuted or discriminated against because of their minority status. This law also affected other religious groups in Pakistan, so often we see Christians rallying for the protection of religious freedom, even when they are not directly the beneficiaries. But Why I asked? I remember reading a quote in a Charles Colson book that said “your own rights will be protected to the degree that you protect the rights of others”. Going back to what Stockwell said, “ I thank God that we are an assembly where people can stand and say that they do not believe in God, that they can share equal ground in this place”. In this nation much unlike Pakistan the freedom to disagree about faith is respected. The freedom of religion is a foundation in Christianity I found. You see Christians believe that we are made in the image of God and as bearers of his image we have been given free will. The freedom to accept him or reject him. God will not force himself on any man, true love and relationship will never grow this way. Free will is part of our human nature itself. Charles Colson speaking of the United States said; “Our founding fathers recognized that without freedom of conscience, no other freedom can be guaranteed.” So As Christians we need to recognize the gift we have in our Nation, and remember to pray for and actively support Religious freedom, fore it is for the benefit of all people as it is in our very nature itself. Rob Jr.