Organizations defending religious freedom (worldwide)


  1. Abstract
  2. Keywords
  3. Introduction
  4. Explanation about the nature of the topic at hand
  5. Historical perspective
    1. The National Religious Freedom Defence League
    2. The White Rose
    3. Defence of religious freedom during the Cold War
    4. Late XX century and the beginning of the XXI century
  6. Status quaestionis
  7. Legal regulation
  8. Practical issues
  9. International organisations
    1. Europe
    2. The Americas
    3. Asia
    4. Africa
    5. Challenges faced by organisations that defend religious freedom
  10. Bibliography
  11. External links
  12. On the author


The content of this article covers organisations that advocate for religious freedom at an international level, in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.

This article reviews more than 50 organisations throughout the world.

In terms of historical perspective, we will discuss two historical records: The White Rose in Europe and the National Religious Freedom Defence League in the Americas, as well as how and when did some of the organisations were born.



Religious freedom, organisations, civil society.



Religious freedom is a fundamental right well established in the legal system of most countries worldwide.

Nonetheless, many times this right is not safeguarded as it should be. For this reason, organisations that advocate for religious freedom are founded.

Religious freedom is the most intimate fundamental right of a person, as it protects their most profound beliefs and convictions.


Explanation of the nature of the topic at hand

The Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici reminds us:

Respect for the dignity of the person, which implies the defence and promotion of human rights, demands the recognition of the religious dimension of the individual. This is not simply a requirement "concerning matters of faith", but a requirement that finds itself inextricably bound up with the very reality of the individual. In fact, the individual's relation to God is a constitutive element of the very "being" and "existence" of an individual[1].

Saint John Paul II goes on quoting himself:

Religious freedom, an essential requirement of the dignity of every person, is a cornerstone of the structure of human rights, and for this reason an irreplaceable factor in the good of individuals and of the whole of society, as well as of the personal fulfilment of each individual. It follows that the freedom of individuals and of communities to profess and practice their religion is an essential element for peaceful human coexistence... The civil and social right to religious freedom, inasmuch as it touches the most intimate sphere of the spirit, is a point of reference for the other fundamental rights and in some way becomes a measure of them[2].

Thus, religious freedom advocacy through civil society’s organisations not only engages believers, but all of humanity and it is rooted at the core of one’s entire existence.

In 1941, Rabbi Samuel Wolk states, in Univeresal Jewish Encyclopedia, that tolerance was a distinguishing mark in Judaism[3].

About the Muslim religion, professor Frans van der Velden expresses in his article Freedom of religion as a human right in today’s Muslim world: “The freedom of religion has always been heavily debated, and continues to be so today. The traditional 1981 Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, on one hand, and the liberal 1999 Casablanca Conference and the 2000 Cairo Conference of the Arab Human Rights Movement, on the other, illustrate this”.[4] Even though these declarations are well known in the academic sphere, they have had little influence in politics among countries with Muslim majority.


Historical perspective

In this section two historical records, that have already disappeared, will be discussed. One during the religious persecution in Mexico and the other in Nazi Germany. This is also about the way in which some organisations, that advocate for religious freedom nowadays, were born and why.


  • The National Religious Freedom Defence League

The persecution against Christians in Mexico commenced on 1914. The Constitution of 1917 acknowledged this harassment. On December 1st, 1924, Plutarco Elías Calles came to power.

In view of these circumstances, on March 14th, 1925, the Catholic Women’s Union, the Knights of Columbus, the National Catholic Work Confederation and the Mexican Association of Catholic Youth (ACJM) signed a declaration for the creation of the National Religious Freedom Defence League. The Popular Union, founded by the martyr Anacleto González Flores, would also become part of the League.

Despite being born in a Catholic religious scope, it was not a denominational association that followed the Catholic hierarchy, it was a civil organisation. Therefore, we can consider it as the first precedent of associations that advocate for religious freedom.

It was able to gather more than two million signatures supporting a petition from Mexican bishops asking for the derogation of “Calles’ Law”, officially known as the Religious Worship Tolerance Act, that restricted that which it said was to be tolerated.


  • The White Rose

A resistance group against the Nazi regime, created in Munich’s University by Christian students. From June 1942 until the death of its leaders, only eight months later, six papers were written and distributed along their own and other German cities, intellectually based on classic and Christian philosophers and thinkers.

In the second paper they already emphasized the 300.000 Jews that were murdered since the capture of Poland, when almost no one was talking about it.

On February 22nd, 1943, the Hans bothers, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst were executed. On June 13th, Alexander Schmorell and Kurt Huber, and on October 12th, Willi Graf. All of them were university students, except Huber who was a professor.


  • Defence of religious freedom during the Cold War

Two of the most important organisations that defend religious freedom nowadays all over the world, Aid to the Church in Need and Open Doors, were born in Europe because of the constant violation of this right in the Communist Regimes.

Also, smaller ones, but that do a great job, such as The Voice of the Martyrs or Stefanus Alliance International, were born in the same context (more information on these organisations can be found in the “practical issues” section of this article).


  • Late XX century and the beginning of the XXI century

When religious freedom reached Eastern Europe, in the occidental democracies a new problem appeared, that caused the founding of many organisations that advocate for religious freedom: bellicose secularism, which intends to eliminate religion from the public sphere.

Furthermore, at an international level, jihadist violence influenced the appearance of numerous organisations that defend religious freedom to protect the victims of this violence.


Status quaestionis

There is no academic work on associations that advocate for religious freedom, at least that is known or readily available.

Nonetheless, the United States’ State Department annually writes a report on the present situation on religious freedom in each country of the world. This is the most relevant report on the matter and we can find many associations depicted in it, although not all of them.


Legal regulation

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in its 18th article, acknowledges religious and conscience freedom, and in its 20th the freedom of association, both rights are essential to be able to establish a civil organisation that safeguards believers.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union acknowledges these two rights on its 10th and 12th articles respectively.

In Europe, France is one of the countries that defends the right of association and has done so for the longest time. Formalized under the law of July 1st, 1901.


On the other hand, the United States of America is where associations that advocate for religious freedom have the most development and influence. Furthermore, many international associations have their headquarters there. This is because the first amendment of their Constitution guarantees that the Congress cannot issue any law that stablishes an official religion or that restricts religious practice.


Practical issues

International organisations

This section will be presented in alphabetical order.


  • Alliance Defending Freedom

ADF is, according to its own web page, the world's largest legal organisation committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights, and God's design for marriage and the family[5].

It was founded on 1994 by Christian leaders from the USA, but it advocates for all religions and even non-believers. They have offices in the main decision making centres of the world, such as Brussels, Strasbourg, Geneva, London, Vienna, New York or Washington, and they have representation on the UN, its Human Rights Committee, the Organisation of American States, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the European Council, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the European Court of Human Rights and the European Union.


  • Aid to the Church in Need

ACN is an association which depends on the Holy See. It was founded in 1947 by the Dutch priest Werenfried van Straaten to aid German Catholic refugees. Since 1999, it writes a bi-annual report on the situation of religious freedom in 196 countries. It has more than 20 offices in the world.


  • Christian Solidarity International

CSI is a Christian human rights association that fights for religious freedom and human dignity; it gives aid to victims of religious persecution and natural disasters; it was created in 1970 by the Swiss pastor Hansjürg Stückelberger.


  • Christian Solidarity Worldwide

CSW has lawyer on more than 20 countries in Africa, Asia, Hispanic America and Middle East with the objective of defending religious freedom. Furthermore, it has offices in three of the most important decision-making centres of the world: London, Brussels and Washington D.C.

  • International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty

This association was founded in Paris on 1946 by the French Jean Nussbaum, with the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, widow to the ex-President of the United States. It has consultative status in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations, the European Council and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).


  • International Christian Concern (ICC)

ICC defends persecuted Christians all over the world through three pillars: assistance, advocacy and awareness. It is a division of the CSI founded in 1995.


  • International Institute for Religious Freedom

It has an academic profile and publishes articles on the International Journal for Religious Freedom, as well as books and reports.


  • International Panel of Parliaments for Freedom of Religion or Belief

This network of parliamentarians and legislators fights against religious related persecution and has groups in Europe, Africa and Asia.


  • Middle East Concern

It was created on 1991 as a response to the needs of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. It is present in 24 countries from these two regions, and its board of reference has members from the five continents.


  • Open Doors

This international organisation was born in The Netherlands. The Evangelical Christian missionary Andrew van der Bijl travelled from his country to Warsaw in 1955, there he discovered the persecuted church. For two years he travelled through Eastern Europe distributing bibles. He told his journey in 1967 on the book God’s smuggler.

During the 70s, Van der Bijl, known as brother Andrew, travelled through Africa, Asia and South America, talking about the situation of the persecuted Christians and searching for people who supported his mission.

Van der Bijl died in 2022, but his legacy continues through Open Doors. This organisation annually publishes the Global Persecution List, with the top 50 countries in which the Christian persecution is higher. Additionally, it aids believers in more than 60 countries.


  • Political Network for Values

This platform advocates for the protection of human life, marriage, family or religious freedom and conscience, and it has politicians and leaders from the Americas and Europe among its members.


  • The Voice of the Martyrs

It was founded in 1967 by the Evangelical pastor Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina, and aids persecuted Christians. They were persecuted because of their faith in Communist Romania, where they were incarcerated and tortured. Today, they have offices in 18 countries across the five continents.


  • Trinitarian International Solidarity

It is an association of the Trinitarian Order that, since 1999, aids persecuted Christians. The charism of this Order, founded by Saint Juan de Mata in 1198, is to free slaves. In the 21st century, Christians are the most persecuted of all religions and in many countries they cannot profess their faith freely, so following their charism they continue doing their work.


  • 21Willbeforce

It is a Christian organisation devoted to defending religious and conscience freedom. It takes its name from William Wilberforce, a British parliamentarian from the 19th century, that worked toward the abolition of slavery. It has “ambassadors” in America, Africa, Europe and Asia.



There are two organisations that cover all the European territory.

The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) linked to two mirror organisations in the Americas and Africa: the American Centre for Law and Justice and the East Africa Centre for Law and Justice. It is dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in Europe, and it has held special Consultative Status before the United Nations/ECOSOC. It works especially in the European Court of Human Rights, but also in the OSCE and the European Parliament. It was created on 1998 and has its headquarters in Strasbourg (France).

The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe (OIDAC) was founded in 2006, has its headquarters in Vienna and writes and annual report on the attacks on religious freedom against Christians in all Europe; it also publishes other reports related to religious freedom.

Furthermore, some European countries have associations that advocate for religious freedom:


  • Belgium

The Institute for the Study of Freedom of Religion or Belief (ISFORB) is an academic investigation group with headquarters in Leuven.


  • France

There we find the Observatory of Christianophobia. This online journal registers all the attacks against Christians in the country.


  • Netherlands

The Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America and the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Africa have their headquarters in Voorburg. Both of them are programmes from the Foundation Platform for Social Transformation.


  • Norway

Stefanus Alliance International was created in 1967 and worked towards helping Christians that live under communist regimes in Eastern Europe by the name “Mission behind the ironcurtain”.

In 2012, the name of the organisation changed to the one it uses now, taking Saint Stephen, first martyr of Christendom, as its patron saint. With headquarters in Oslo, it has projects in Eastern Europe, Asia and Northern Africa to protect all that are persecuted because of their faith.

For its part, Forum 18 is a news service that advocates for religious freedom through their articles. It takes its name from the 18th article of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


  • Poland

The Laboratory of Religious Freedom is an initiative from the Pro Futuro Theologiae Foundation put into operation in 2019 and linked to the Faculty of Theology from the Nicolaus Copernicus University, in Torun. It writes an annual report on attacks to religious freedom in this country. Also, it carries out different academic activities.

For its part, Ordo Iuris is a foundation created in 2013 to protect human dignity and fundamental rights through investigations, academic activities and legal action. It boasts a Center for Religious Freedom and has a presence in Croatia and Spain.


  • Spain

The Observatory for Freedom of Religion and Conscience (OLRC), which it is my honour to preside, defends the right to religious freedom in Spain since 2006. Since 2009, it has written reports on attacks to religious freedom in Spain.

Christian Lawyers has as objective the juridical defence of religious freedom, the right to life and the family. This foundation has been working since 2008, and opened a delegation in Mexico in 2022 and in Argentina in 2023.

The OLRC and Christian Lawyers collaborates, together with many other institutions, with NEOS, a platform which seeks to offer society an anthropological and cultural vision based on a Christian foundation rooted in the concepts of personhood, truth and the common good.

Finally, the Laboratory for Freedom of Belief and the Management of Diversity has an academic profile and depends on the University of Zaragoza’s Law School.


  • Ukraine

The Institute for Religious Freedom was founded in Kiev. It seeks to protect and promote religious freedom and related human rights, as well as facilitate interconfessional dialogue and cooperation between the State and different churches and, finally, strengthen civil society and democracy in Ukraine. To that end, they have carried out different projects, such as the “Religious Freedom Roundtable” or “Stop Violence!”


  • United Kingdom

The UK Freedom of Religion or Belief Forum is a platform of 70 organisations which spearheads initiatives related to this fundamental right. It does not subscribe to any particular religion.

Christian Concern is likewise based in the UK. It is an organisation that counts on the Christian Legal Centre to protect Christians.


The Americas

The Latin America Consortium for Religious Freedom is an academic forum that, since its founding, in 2000, carries out an annual international colloquium in different parts of Iberoamerica.

In some countries, there are also organisations that defend this fundamental right:


  • Argentina

The Argentinian Council for Religious Freedom was born in the year 2000 with the encouragement of the country’s Secretariat of Worship. Nowadays, they work in the private sector with an academic focus.


  • Cuba

The Patmos Institute has been working, with Christian inspiration, on encouraging interreligious dialogue and religious freedom in the island since 2013.


  • Mexico

National Conscience for Religious Freedom has been working, since 2015, in favour of this right as well as conscientious objection and the family.


  • USA

As it has been stated before, the USA usually leads many of the initiatives that protect religious freedom, Due to the fact that the 1st amendment of their Constitution defends this, as well as other fundamental rights.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent organism, but its members are named by the President, the Senate and the House of Representatives. It writes an annual report on religious freedom in the world and makes recommendation to the President, the Secretary of State and the Congress.

The Religious Freedom Institute wants religious freedom to be a priority in society, both in the political and social arena. It carries out its activity in the USA as well as the Middle East and Asia.

For its part, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), related to the European ECLJ, works through education, advocacy and litigation to defend human rights, among them, religious freedom.

Jubilee Campaign USA defends religious freedom of minorities in the world, with especial attention to refugees and human trafficking victims. It has consultative status in the Economic and Social Council of the UN.

The International Center for Law and Religious Studies was born in Brigham Young University, in Utah, and does academic work. In Defense of Christians works for religious freedom in Middle East.

For its part, the Bangladesh, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian Unity Council has its headquarters in New York, but it is comprised by Bangladeshi expatriates that work for the rights of religious minorities in the country.

Finally, the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation wants to demonstrate the social and economic benefits of religious freedom.

Other organisations in the USA are: Freedom Forum, the St. Charles Institute, Law and Liberty International or Institute for Global Engagement.



  • China

ChinaAid defends those persecuted due to their faith in China through advocacy and sharing of testimonies. It has its headquarters in Texas, USA, due to the censorship in China, and work in the Congress of that country as well as in the UN. It also has a fund for family members incarcerated for reasons of religious persecution and gives theological and legal formation.


  • India

Persecution Relief aids Christians from all denominations through four pillars: prayer, economic support, helping with administrative procedures and legal support.


  • Malaysia

Global Human Rights Foundation was created in 2021 in Kuala Lumpur to protect ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities against discrimination.


  • Saudi Arabia

ALQST works since 2014 advocating for human rights, in a country where religious minorities are persecuted. It aids and raises awareness of prisoners of conscience.


  • Sri Lanka

MinorMatters carries out campaigns to promote religious freedom and religious harmony.



In speaking of organizations for the defence of religious freedom in Africa, we will focus on two countries.


  • Kenya

The East Africa Centre for Law and Justice (EACLJ) has been working since 2010 in Kenya and East Afica. It is related to its European and American counterparts; its objective is to be a resource of credible and reliable information for members of society and policy makers[6].


  • South Africa

Freedom of Religion South Africa defends religious freedom in the country, particularly the right of parents to choose the education of their children and the autonomy of religious organizations to determine their own doctrine and regulate their internal affairs without interference from the State. It does not depend on any particular religious denomination.

For its part, the South African National Christian Forum (SANCF) was created to protect the rights of the Christian community against discrimination and police brutality in the country.


Challenges faced by organisations that defend religious freedom

The main challenge they face is to defend the right of religious freedom in a society that is defined, increasingly, by its bellicose and excluding secularism, where all spirituality is less and less important.

This bellicose secularism is reflected in laws and political and governmental measures, and it intends to socially hide believers, so they don’t have any opinion on the public sphere and they only practise their faith in private.

Furthermore, internally, these organisations must safeguard their independence against governments, political parties and media, and at the same time they need to be present on these same media and become a beacon for opinions on religious freedom. Also, it is a challenge to acquire enough monetary support to work efficiently and independently.

Finally, as a service to society, they must be able to draw the fine line between religious freedom and freedom of expression and achieve that hate speech and attacks against religious sentiments lessen, especially on social media, where anonymity is prevalent.



Books and articles

  • Antequera, L. (2015): La persecución de los cristianos en el siglo XXI. Madrid: Digital Reasons. Access: 04.09.2023.
  • García Pelegrín, J.M. (2014): La Rosa Blanca. Los estudiantes que se alzaron contra Hitler. Madrid: Libroslibres.
  • Homolka, W (2012): Judaism: Freedom of Religion and tolerance in Europe, Access: 04.09.2023.
  • John Paul II (1988): Christifideles Laici. Access: 04.09.2023.
  • John Paul II (1988): Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace. Access: 04.09.2023.
  • Olivera Ravasi, J (2016): La Contrarrevolución cristera. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Katejon.
  • Paul VI (1965): Dignitatis Humanae. Access: 04.09.2023.
  • Pontificio Consejo “Justicia y Paz” (2016): Compendio de doctrina social de la Iglesia. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos.




External links

The reader can access any of the webpages found in the bibliography in the section “On organizations in defence of religious freedom”, to expand on information on the institutions named in the article.

The Report of the Department of State of the United States is also of tremendous interest to understand the global context on religious freedom and the institutions that work for this fundamental right:


On the author

María García has a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication from the Universidad de Carlos III in Madrid and a master of Philosophy and Christianity from the Universidad Católica de Murcia. Since 2009 she has collaborated with the Observatory for the Freedom of Religion and Conscience, which she has presided from 2012.


[1] John Paul II (1988): Christifideles Laici, 39, Access: 04.09.2023.

[2] John Paul II (1988): Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace Access: 04.09.2023.

[3] Homolka, W. (2012): Judaism: Freedom of Religion and tolerance in Europe

[4] Van der Velden, F. (2023): Freedom of religion as a human right in today's Muslim world Access: 04.09.2023.

[5]  Alliance Defending Freedom (2023): Access: 04.09.2023.

[6] East African Centre for Law and Justice (2021): Access: 04.09.2023.

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