Where ISIS is defeated, freedom of worship returns

In 2014, ISIS looted and burned St. George’s, a Chaldean Catholic church in the Ninewa Plains of Iraq, beheading members of its congregation on the altar. Three years later, in December 2017, its congregants rededicated the restored place of worship by anointing its altar and walls with oil.

Two men standing at lecterns before congregants in a church (Nitika Sethi/USAID)
USAID Counselor Tom Staal (at lectern on left) attends the rededication of a Chaldean Catholic church that ISIS had looted and burned. (Nitika Sethi/USAID)

At Saint Paul’s, the only functioning church left in Mosul, the faithful celebrated Christmas openly for the first time since 2013, thanks to the liberation of their city in July 2017.

These observances represent a renewal of religious freedom in regions from which ISIS has been expelled. Today, not only Catholics, but also other Christians, Muslims and religious minorities such as the Yazidi, whose beliefs subjected them to persecution, can freely worship.

While visiting Saudi Arabia in May 2017, President Trump emphasized the need to address radicalization to violence and its harmful effects on minorities and others. He called on the international community to stand “against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians.”

Less than six months after Iraqi forces drove ISIS from Mosul, the freedom to worship according to one’s conscience was returning to victims of violent extremism.

Religious leader giving Eucharist to a congregant (© Ahmad Muwafaq/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi receives the Eucharist during Christmas mass at Saint Paul’s in Mosul. Worshipers celebrated Christmas for the first time in four years. (© Ahmad Muwafaq/AFP/Getty Images)

Promoting religious freedom is a core American value, and studies have shown it to be an essential condition for peace, security and stability. “No one should have to live in fear, worship in secret or face discrimination because of his or her beliefs,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in August 2017. “As President Trump has said, we look forward to a day when ‘people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience.'”