If you need a reminder of the tyranny and oppression that happens when government replaces God, take a look at Cuba.
Over the last couple of weeks, widespread protests have broken out across the island, with citizens rallying in opposition to the communist regime that’s held power for over 6 decades.
While some explained the demonstrations were primarily due to rising COVID cases and lack of vaccines, it seems there’s something deeper driving Cubans to the streets—evident by the fact that many of them are clearly heard shouting “Libertad!” (liberty) and waving the American flag to symbolize their search for freedom.
For Americans, there’s an important lesson we must learn from the situation unfolding just 90 miles south of our shores.
That is a sobering reminder that communist regimes such as the one in Cuba all begin in a similar way: By crushing and stripping away the religious liberty of its citizens.
Because once a dictatorial ruling elite succeeds at destroying religious freedom and subjugating houses of worship to its power, it’s only a matter of time before other fundamental freedoms—economic, political and social—are ripped away as well.
Make no mistake; the unrest we see in Cuba today is the result of religious suppression and a denial of fundamental human freedoms. It’s the outcome of what happens when our freedoms are decided by the government and not by the the eternal truths that come from God.
Under communist dictatorships, religious freedom is the first to be attacked
To better understand why authoritarians always seek to destroy religious freedom, let’s hear from Pastor Mario Lleonart Barroso, a Cuban religious leader who became a vocal critic of the Castro regime, and experienced tyranny first-hand.
Pastor Mario served in Cuba as a Baptist minister where he and his family felt the weight of religious freedom violations simply because they were Christians. In 2016, Pastor Mario was violently arrested and imprisoned for 3 days, ironically during the time when then-President Barack Obama visited the island.
After his arrest, Pastor Mario feared for his life and emigrated to the U.S. with his family. In the video below, you can hear Pastor Mario tell his story in more detail:
In an exclusive conversation with First Liberty, Pastor Mario explained why Cuba’s communist regime oppresses religious people and houses of worship:
“Destroying the foundations of any society and guaranteeing the oppression of a population who’s been stripped of its rights requires these regimes to also destroy the certainty of imago dei, the idea that we have equal dignity because we are created by God, that our rights come from Him and not from government.”
To consolidate power and exert total control, communist dictators make religious freedom and religious institutions their first targets. They do so to remove the most effective challenge to government tyranny.
It’s the reason why Cuba's communist party leader Fidel Castro clearly stated that “religious believers would not be allowed to enter into the party’s ranks,” and why he also ripped away the liberty of parents to choose a religious education for their children when the party began absorbing religious schools into the nationalized education system.
It’s not surprising that Cuba’s communist government has responded with an iron fist against religious groups in the face of recent protests:
- Father Castor Alvarez was beaten and jailed while defending young protestors.
- Young Catholics were imprisoned for protesting the government.
- Authorities detained Reverend Yusniel Montejo of the Eastern Baptist Convention, Yeremi Blanco, and Yarian Sierra of the Barean Baptist Mission
Tyrants recognize that houses of worship and people of faith are the ultimate check on authoritarian power because their allegiance isn’t first and foremost to the government. A free people know that their ultimate loyalty is to God, the true provider and source of our freedoms.
Our blessed nation should heed the warning signs
From state officials threatening to shut down churches, to the censorship of religious voices in the media, the pervasive cancel culture, restrictions of people’s right worship freely, and government elites wanting to destroy the judiciary’s power to protect constitutional rights, one would think we are describing tyranny in a nation like Cuba.
However, attacks on religious freedom are happening right here, right now, all across America.
Much like the brazen power-grabs seen in other nations, our nation faces a rising “soft totalitarianism,” a radical and intolerant ideology that silences and punishes those who live and act in accordance with their deeply-held religious beliefs.
As our Cuban neighbors yearn for freedom, Americans can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that no nation is immune to tyranny—and we must be ever vigilant and step up to stop the threats to liberty on our home soil.
Originally published at First Liberty.
Jorge Gomez is the Content Strategist and Senior Writer for First Liberty Institute. He has previously worked as a communications and messaging strategist for faith-based nonprofits and conservative policy organizations. He holds a degree in political science from the University of Central Florida and a master’s degree in public policy from Liberty University.
Andrew Hamm is a Shaftesbury Fellow at the First Liberty Institute Center for Religion, Culture and Democracy. He was recently a fellow at the John Jay Institute and holds a degree in marketing and management with a specialization in philosophy from Jacksonville University.