How secular intolerance leads to Christian self-censorship


European Union


Photo iStock

Christians regularly practice self-censorship when faced with secular intolerance. This is the conclusion of several Christian human rights organizations in a report published in June).

Unjustified distinction

The three organisations, including the International Institute for Religious Freedom, investigate Christian persecution and "secular intolerance."

The distinction between a "free church in the West" and "the persecuted church" is not justified, they write. Forms of persecution also take place in the West, but these are often incidents. "A few cuts do not kill you and barely hurt. But continuous small strikes eventually have an impact."

The chilling effect

According to the researchers, this leads to what they call the "chilling effect": a form of paralysis among Christians to profess their faith or to speak out about themes that are controversial in the culture, such as views on marriage, and family or sexual morality.

The researchers surveyed individuals from Mexico, Colombia, France and Germany on these themes, and concluded that Christians regularly practice self-censorship. For example, believing scientists often feel compelled to keep their beliefs secret or Christians are reluctant on social media for fear of a "social lynching."

A French interviewee says: “This is secularism: I don’t like you but in the name of tolerance I do everything so that you exist. But as I don’t like you, at the same time I seek to destroy you. It’s completely schizophrenic. But it leads Catholics to be schizophrenic themselves; the Christian Sunday and the citizen week... It is a cleavage which one is pushed into.”


The study also states that many Christians are not aware that they practice self-censorship. Because it is a subtle process, this element is often not recognized in studies of religious freedom. According to the authors, however, self-censorship does hinder a free confession of religion.

“What I learned from this interview is that I need to be attentive to the distinction between caution and self-censorship. It gives me a key to discernment,” says a French priest.

Training needed

Christians see a need for more training on this topic, the study concludes. They want to know how to detect self-censorship and how to react to places where they are prone to the “chilling effect”. The researchers write: “We cannot but interpret this as a request for help made by the global Church.” At the same time, they suggest the Church should play a more active role in fighting self-censorship, because of unawareness among its members.

A mother tells the following story: “I remember that my son, one day, had put his catechism notebook in his school bag. At school, his classmates discovered it, and my son was mocked. And so, he never again put his catechism things in with his school things. He separated the two worlds. It’s very insidious.”

Christian response

The research suggests that both the chilling effect and self-censorship are real and call for a Christian response. One of the recommendations given in this study is for churches to raise awareness. In this way, Christians can, individually and collectively, take a proactive stand against the leading secular worldview. As one interviewee states: “if churches stand their ground, it might be possible to push back on parts of secular intolerance.”



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.