While the mainstream media rarely highlight the issue, today we’re going to take a look at trends in religious liberty around the world.

I wish I could say otherwise, but the news is almost uniformly bad. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center, says that 70 percent of the world’s population — some 5 billion people — reside in nations where religious liberty is severely restricted.

Even worse, citing recent studies by the Pew Foundation, Farr notes that the situation is deteriorating in twice as many countries as it’s improving.

But surely the steady loss of religious liberty is not an issue in the non-Muslim West, right? Unfortunately, wrong. A growing numbers of Western governments, while not as brutal as Muslim regimes, see religion as not only unnecessary for human development, but as downright dangerous.

The main culprit is an aggressive secularism that seeks to confine religious expression within the four walls of houses of worship while excluding religiously informed moral arguments from the public square.

Farr writes, “[H]istorically Christian Europe is the region with the largest proportion of nations where hostility toward religion is rising. ... Social hostility in the United Kingdom has increased so much that that country now stands with Iran and Saudi Arabia in the category of ‘high’ social hostility to religion.”

Almost unbelievably, Farr adds: “French government restrictions have increased, too, moving it ahead of Cuba in that category.”

But surely things are better on this side of the Pond? Well, maybe a touch, but the trends are not encouraging. In Canada, since so-called gay “marriage” was legalized in 2005, there have been 200 to 300 proceedings against defenders of marriage — including Christians — launched in the courts, and on human rights commissions and employment boards.

And what about the United States? We have the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, don’t we? Well, of course — on paper. Given what Farr calls the current administration’s “consistent downgrading of religious freeom,” the picture isn’t too rosy here, either. The HHS mandate, which would force religious organizations to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortion inducing drugs, is nothing less than a direct assault on religious freedom.

Folks, Chuck Colson reminded us again and again that religious freedom is called the first freedom for a reason: As our founding fathers knew, without it, no other freedom could be secure.

And Chuck was adamant that, of all people, Christians must defend religious freedom — not just for ourselves, but for every human being. That’s because we know that God, who enjoys perfect freedom, created us in His image. And every son of Adam and daughter of Eve should enjoy the freedom to follow Him. Or not.

Here’s what I’d like you to do. Please come to BreakPoint.org and click on this commentary. We will link you to the Manhattan Declaration. Please read it, sign it, and begin to educate yourself and your church on what you can do to defend religious freedom.

Chuck felt that co-authoring the Manhattan Declaration was one of the most important things he ever did. I think he was right, and that’s why I’m on the board of the Manhattan Declaration. I urge you to sign it today.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: July 30, 2012