WASHINGTON (Christian News Network) — Several U.S. congressmen have signed a letter to Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to express concern that more than a dozen churches in the country remain closed under a law that requires non-Muslim churches to register with a government commission — as no applications have yet been approved.
“Last fall, I led several of my fellow members of the United States Congress in contacting the government of Algeria regarding some very concerning reports of church closures taking place. As you may know, 13 churches around Algeria remain closed by the government since November 2017,” reads the letter penned by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.
In October, the 1,200-member Full Gospel Church of Tizi Ouzou was also closed. Salah Challah, the president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) and senior pastor of the Full Gospel Church, took to social media to call upon Christians to pray, stating, “We do not know how far this will go and what are the intentions of our authorities.”
“These reports are troubling as the Algerian constitution clearly outlines freedom of religion for all,” Lamborn’s letter remarks, referring to Article 42, which declares, “Freedom of conscience and freedom of opinion shall be inviolable. Freedom of worship shall be guaranteed in compliance with the law.”
Lamborn points to the enforcement of Ordinance 06-03, a law that, according to the U.S. Department of State, requires non-Muslim groups to register their organizations and buildings with the government in order to operate. Meetings in homes or secluded outdoor areas are not permitted and any changes to the building must be approved by authorities.
However, no churches reportedly have ever been approved under this law since buildings began being closed in 2017.
“Because the government has not registered any new churches since ordinance 06-03 entered into force in February 2008, many Christian citizens continued to meet in unofficial ‘house churches,’ which were often homes or businesses of church members. Some of these groups met openly, while others secretly held worship services in homes,” the Department outlines.
Lamborn and his co-signers believe that the law, therefore, is being used to oppress Christians. They note that the churches have legal standing via their affiliation with the Protestant Church of Algeria.
“These closures and Ordinance of 06-03 are a clear hindrance to the free practice and exercise of religion in Algeria. These freedoms must be guaranteed for all Algerians,” the letter states. ” … We have reason to believe these church closures are a part of a campaign under the previous leadership of Algeria to hinder Christians from freely exercising their faith and religion.”
The congressmen are consequently calling upon Tebboune to see to it that the law is no longer used to shutter non-Muslim houses of worship in the country.
“As a participant in the international community and a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to freedom of religious belief, we urge the Algerian government to halt the unfair implementation of Ordinance
06-03 and review the law’s text along with relevant provisions of the Constitution to ensure that all national laws are consistent with a commitment to protect the freedom of religion, belief and of continence for individuals of all or no faiths,” the correspondence urges.
“We urge your government to allow the churches which you have already closed to reopen, and create a viable means by which churches may obtain full authorization to operate.”
Under the same law, evangelism is considered a criminal offense punishable up to three years in jail and a nearly $7K fine.
Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa; Christopher Smith, R-N.J.; and Ron Wright, R-Texas, also signed on to the letter. Read it in full here.