Action Alert!

Obama is wrong; persecuted Arab Christians should be given priority for asylum

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 18, 2015

With thousands of refugees from the Middle East clamoring for entry, President Obama has said that it is “shameful” to suggest that Christian refugees should be given preference. That statement is wrong: legally, politically, and morally wrong.

Although Obama condemns “religious tests” that might favor Christian refugees, the policies of his administration currently seem to work strong against Christians seeking asylum. In October, the US admitted 187 refugees from Syria: 183 Muslims and 4 Christians. Syria is (or was, before the bloodshed began) roughly 10% Christians. Last year, the Syrian refugees admitted to the US were 97% Muslim.

We know that tens of thousands of Christians have fled from Syria and Iraq, to escape persecution by the Islamic State. Why aren’t they finding their way to the US? Why shouldn’t they find refuge here?

During a November 16 press conference, President Obama said: “When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted… that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

Wrong. In fact federal law requires religious tests, when appropriate, for people seeking asylum. The administration is obligated by law to take into account a refugee’s “well-founded fear of persecution” on religious grounds.

Do Christians have a “well-founded fear of persecution” by the Islamic State? Obviously. Some Muslims may be the targets of the Islamic zealots; all Christians are targets. So the religious test makes sense in this case, under existing law. Why has the Obama administration failed to recognize that fact? Probably because American Christians have not pushed hard enough to save their Arabic brethren.

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, Americans have a legitimate fear that a wave of Arabic refugees might include agents of Al Qaida or the Islamic State, poised to launch fresh attacks on US soil. The vetting process for asylum-seekers—which is light years more strenuous in the US than in European countries—should theoretically pare down that danger. A religious test could achieve the same result. A refugee who can demonstrate a history of worship in a Christian congregation is highly unlikely to be an Islamic zealot, and (although the Obama administration is oddly reluctant to admit this), we are not worried about Christian terrorists.

If persecuted Christians received preference in applying for asylum, political opposition to the acceptance of refugees would be diminished, and the US would be better able to do what it should do, what it has traditionally done: welcome people seeking a safe haven. The moral imperative in this case is particularly strong, since our country’s foreign policy helped to ignite the chaotic violence that these desperate people are now fleeing.

For American Christians, especially—and Christians still account for a solid majority of the country’s residents—an official policy giving preferential treatment to Christian targets of persecution would eliminate a plausible excuse for hesitation. How could we fail to help our brothers and sisters who have suffered for the faith? As we move toward the season of Advent—and, for that matter, the Year of Mercy—we should realize that this is not the best time for announcing that there’s no room at the inn.

Many of the charitable bureaus that serve refugees—including Church-sponsored agencies—boast that they help all needy applicants, regardless of religious affiliation. That’s an admirable policy, but in times of radical uncertainty, prudence is a high priority. And at all times, while we should do our best to save everyone in a crisis, we should save our own family first.

Does anyone out there know of Arabic Christian refugees who need places to live, or of programs specifically serving those families? If so, please let me know; I’d like to help.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: space15796 - Nov. 21, 2015 1:13 AM ET USA

    I am reminded of the case of a couple dozen Iraqi Chaldean Christians who were held at an ICE detention center near San Diego for 6 months and finally deported 3 weeks ago. At the same time the Obama administration is deporting Christians, it has over the years allowed in hundreds of Muslim migrants from Africa and the Middle East who crossed the Southern border the same way the Chaldeans did. If the Chaldeans are returned to their homeland, they face certain death. Yet, no asylum here for them!

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Nov. 20, 2015 9:33 PM ET USA

    "That statement is wrong: legally, politically, and morally wrong." Of the three the POTUS is only concerned about politics! Given the present conditions over there how could anyone "demonstrate a history of worship in a Christian congregation"?