Features

Screaming people awake

National

Issue: "One president, under God," Feb. 3, 2001

Within the moral redlining that marks the parameters of liberal caring, only the "right" people count: Homosexuals who want to adopt children. Abortionists who are picketed. Endangered ferrets.

Michael Horowitz worries about the "wrong" people: Enslaved Christians in Sudan. Child prostitutes in Thailand. Rape victims in U.S. prisons.

His tireless work on their behalf is so admired that the Southern Baptist magazine Home Life named Mr. Horowitz one of the world's top 10 Christians of 1997, along with Mother Teresa and Billy Graham.

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The fact that Mr. Horowitz is actually Jewish caused a few red faces, but the mistake is understandable. The 62-year-old attorney is calling American Christians back to the social activism they were known for in previous generations.

Mr. Horowitz's own awakening took place five years ago, when his family's Ethiopian housekeeper, Getaneh Metfriah, returned to Ethiopia after the fall of communism-and was promptly arrested. Under the communists, Mr. Metfriah "had been hung upside down and beaten with steel rods" for being the head of an underground church, Mr. Horowitz recalled. "I went to an immigration lawyer and said, 'Let's get him a Green Card, he's a victim of religious persecution.' And the lawyer said that if Getaneh had been a radical Muslim or even a former member of the communist regime, they could probably get him in, under many circumstances. But a Christian?" It would, Mr. Horowitz was told, be like trying to thread a camel through the eye of a needle.

Investigating why this was so, Mr. Horowitz didn't like what he found. He learned that "Christians have become the scapegoats of choice for the thug regimes of the world," and he was stunned to find America's elite opinion-makers treating Christians with the same sneering contempt once reserved for Jews.

"At the comfortable dinner parties of Washington, in the newsrooms, in faculty clubs, people were saying, 'Hey, these folks don't fit in,'" Mr. Horowitz recalled. "There was the same blindness and bigotry, the same unwillingness to take up the cause of Christian victims on the part of establishments that were looking everywhere for victims to protect."

Mr. Horowitz began reaching out to Christian leaders, telling them about the horrors he'd investigated: Sudanese Christians tortured, enslaved, and killed for their faith; Chinese house-church leaders with their fingernails pulled out, Pakistani pastors murdered, and Vietnamese priests thrown into prison.

Mr. Horowitz played a key role in getting the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act passed in 1999, for which he formed coalitions among political bedfellows who could not be stranger: Gloria Steinem and Chuck Colson. Planned Parenthood and the National Association of Evangelicals. The Salvation Army and the Children's Defense Fund. New York Times editorial writer Abe Rosenthal wrote that Mr. Horowitz "screamed me awake" on the matter of religious persecution.

Mr. Horowitz also helped pass legislation to combat international sex trafficking. Now he is screaming on behalf of another ignored group: American prisoners who are brutally raped behind bars.

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