Anti-Christian hate crimes in Western Europe rising, report says

By Chris Eyte |
Church of the Elevation of the Cross in Wissen, Germany
The historic Church of the Elevation of the Cross in Wissen, Germany, was targeted in February 2023. | Screenshot / SWR

On Christmas Day of 2022, a fire alarm went off at a church service in Rautjärvi, Finland, but the 30 worshippers who tried to get out found the doors were tied with rope.

Smoke was coming into the sanctuary from a hallway, the church leader told the congregation.

“There was no way you could go out through the main door at that point,” the Rev. Kari Luumi told the Helsinki Times. “Smoke was coming in through the cracks.”

The assailant had not tied the ropes tight enough to keep the doors permanently shut, and the congregation managed to escape before the building, built in 1881, was engulfed in high flames and burned down, a church member told a Norwegian news outlet. Police confirmed an intentional arson attack, according to the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe (OIDAC Europe).

OIDAC Europe’s 2022/2023 annual report shows Molotov cocktails caused fires also at two church buildings in Paris in January 2023, the Church of Saint-Laurent and the Saint-Martin-des-Champs Church. 

In February, an arsonist broke through the backdoor of the historic building of the Church of the Cross in Wissen, Germany. Flames destroyed the high altar, and the assailant vandalized symbolic religious artifacts. Total damages amounted to millions of euros.

These were some of attacks on religious freedom that OIDAC chronicled in a Nov. 16 report that shows an increase in such violations since 2021. Overall, hate crimes against Christians escalated from a previous record of 519 incidents in 2021 to 748 cases in 2022 within 30 European countries, an increase of 44 per cent. 

“The increasing number of anti-Christian hate crimes in Europe reported by OIDAC is deeply worrying,” Regina Polak of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE) stated. “It is highly necessary to raise both governmental and societal awareness for this problem and undertake political measures to tackle and combat it decidedly.”

Throughout 2022, there were 37 arson attacks on Christian targets in Germany, 16 in France and Italy and nine in the United Kingdom. In 18 European countries, arson attacks increased 75 percent, from 60 in 2021 to 106 the following year, according to the report.

“Fortunately, some arson attempts did not succeed and did not cause severe damage to churches, apart from being a hateful gesture toward the community,” the report notes. “In other cases, the fires devastated churches, altars, and religious objects, which led to high monetary and emotional losses.

The report chronicles how the issue of abortion gave rise to oppression of Christians. Buffer zones around abortion clinics gained U.K. parliamentary approval in England and Wales in March. This criminalized “all forms of influence” affecting people using the clinics, including peaceful actions such as prayer. 

“The right to freedom of speech continues to be a highly debated issue,” adds the report, “as new laws are seeking to regulate speech in the public sphere, and some even in the private sphere. New ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics are one form of state regulation that has led to the criminalization of Christians for praying silently on the street.” 

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, director of UK March for Life, was arrested in December 2022 for silently praying outside the BPAS Robert Clinic, an abortion clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham, England. An online video shows police officers asking her to disclose the “praying in your mind.”

She admitted to praying in her thoughts, and officers searched her body, including her hair. She was arrested, interrogated at a police station and charged with “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users.”

During interrogation, officers showed Vaughan-Spruce photos of herself standing outside the abortion clinic. Vaughan-Spruce later told Alliance Defending Freedom International that she told police she may have been praying at those moments – or thinking about her lunch. The Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence in January 2023. 

The Birmingham Magistrates’ Court later dismissed the charges altogether, although police arrested Vaughan-Spruce again in March for standing inside the buffer zone. West Midland Police later allowed that she was “permitted within the area.” Then-Home Secretary Suella Braverman, sent a letter to police officers in September 2023 reminding them that silent prayer, “in itself, is not unlawful.”

“The litmus test of a free and democratic British society is whether we can tolerate and withstand public conversation on issues about which there is deep division and strong emotion,” said Member of Parliament Andrew Lewer, regarding the arrest. “But even if you think these praying people are pests, think about the implications of introducing a ban on their peaceful speech, even their silent thought.”

Doctors, nurses and other medical workers suffered “vulnerable positions” when refusing to participate in practices such as abortion because of religious beliefs. This happened as a result of employers attempting to ditch conscience clauses established by law.

The German government is trying to force trainee doctors to study abortion techniques as part of their general studies under a curriculum reform announced in September. The report says this would “ban Christians opposing abortion for conscience reasons from all medical professions.” 

Believers face a similar challenge in Spain, where the Spanish Congress of Deputies passed an abortion law in December. Doctors opting out of abortion would be blacklisted on a “conscientious objectors” list and removed from medical committees. 

Hate speech laws also posed various challenges to Christians in Europe. The report highlighted a bill passed in the lower house of the Irish Parliament in April. The Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offenses Bill made it a criminal offense to possess material deemed “hateful” to people “on account of their protected characteristics or any of those characteristics” – with a threat of imprisonment for offenders.

Alleged offenders were required to prove they did not intend to use such materials to “spread hate.”

Also threatening religious freedom were “other legal developments, such as vaguely formulated and overreaching laws that would criminalize parents, pastors, and teachers if they express dissenting opinions regarding LGBTIQ-related discussions or discourage their children from undergoing ‘hormone therapies’ because of their religious convictions,” the report stated.

Criminalizing expressions of mainstream religious teachings as hate speech when they do not incite hatred or violence is “dangerous on various levels,” noted Anja Hoffman, executive director of OIDAC Europe. 

“It stigmatizes legitimate conscience-related convictions, and at the same time weakens the severity of actual incitement to hatred,” she added. “Furthermore, silencing Christian voices in public undermines the plurality of democratic Western societies and essentially renders a free discourse impossible.”

Some Christian school teachers also faced persecution for their beliefs. In Wales, teacher Ben Dybowski last yearshared his beliefs on biblical marriage during a confidential training session about diversity and gender awareness at his high school.

The teacher said human life starts at conception and should be protected from that moment. He also stated that marriage is a union between a man and woman, although he acknowledged the state recognizes other options. Lastly, he said that he was critical of some aspects of Islam. 

“That’s it. Three mainstream Christian views shared by millions of Brits, religious or otherwise,” said Dybowski on his campaign website, set up to take legal action against the school. “The next day I was escorted by the headmaster out of the school building. He decided my views were a ‘safeguarding issue’ and reported me to the local regulator of the education workforce (in plain English: in his opinion my Christian beliefs made me unsafe to work with children and young people). This led to a general ban on working in schools.”


The OIDCC Europe report makes several recommendations for change:

·       European governments should improve communications with religious groups when drafting laws affecting freedom of religion.

·       governments should safeguard Christians’ freedoms of religion, expression, assembly and conscientious objection. 

·       The European Union should refrain from hate-speech legislation, which is too open to interpretation, and to ensure laws do not discriminate “directly or indirectly” against Christians. 

·       Measures are also needed to collect data on discrimination against believers and media approaches to religious rights need to be vastly improved.

·       Journalists need to report anti-hate crimes against Christians, and churches should be encouraged to educate members about legal rights for freedom of religious beliefs.

“As freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is a cornerstone for free and democratic societies, we hope that states will not compromise on the protection of these fundamental rights, and thus ensure an open and peaceful climate in our societies,” the report states.