Forced Clandestine Practice and Religious Persecution

By David Feder for the Federalist Society

"Persecution” is defined as “to cause to suffer because of belief.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 866 (10th ed. 1993).  Chinese government officials arrested Ting Xue for attending an unregistered Christian church, hit him with an electrically charged baton, threw him in a squalid cell for four days, and threatened him with serious punishment if he ever repeated the offense. When some of his fellow church members were caught shortly thereafter practicing underground, they arrested them and sentenced them to one year in prison. Fearing that he would soon suffer the same punishment simply for freely exercising his faith, Mr. Xue fled to the United States and applied for asylum. One would think that, if anyone had suffered because of his beliefs, it would be Mr. Xue. Nonetheless, the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed his appeal from the immigration judge’s denial of asylum.

The Chinese government fears organizations—like Western religions—that might undermine its tight control over the country and its citizens. Accordingly, it has instituted its own state-controlled protestant Church—the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”—which “manipulates and modifies doctrine and theology in an effort to eliminate elements of Christian faith that the Communist Party regards as incompatible with its goals and ideology.” So, for example, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement teaches that loyalty to the State and the Community Party come before loyalty to God. And the top leadership of the Movement has even considered simply getting rid of the book of Revelation. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government bans unregistered or “house” churches and seeks them out in order to arrest, imprison, and torture their leaders and members. 

Chinese police caught wind of Mr. Xue’s house church one day and raided it—imprisoning and interrogating all its members.  During his interrogation, Mr. Xue was hit across the head and beaten with an electrically charged baton. Afterward, the police threw him into a squalid and crowded jail cell with four other men where they shared a single wooden bucket for a toilet—a bucket not emptied during Mr. Xue’s entire imprisonment. The officers routinely mocked Mr. Xue and his companions, referring to themselves as the prisoners’ “God,” claiming the power to refuse to feed them, and taunting them to call on God for rescue.  After four days in these conditions, Mr. Xue’s family obtained his release at a costly price—15,000 yuan—which amounted to over half of Mr. Xue’s yearly 25,000 yuan salary. The government also forced Mr. Xue to sign a “guarantee letter”—a pledge not to attend underground church meetings lest he face severe punishment and required him to report to the police station weekly to ensure that he did not attend again a house church.

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David Feder is court-appointed pro bono appellate counsel to Mr. Xue in connection with his appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.