WASHINGTON -- The crackdown against religious believers is soaring. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., who co-chaired a hearing this week on these increasing attacks, said nearly 40 percent of countries, including those containing most of the world's population, now have high or very high levels of restrictions on faith.
"This includes top-down government repression and bottom-up social hostility from individuals and groups," Hultgren explained at Wednesday's hearing.
A big question at this hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission was can peaceful supporters of religion actually do something to stop those who want to oppress and strike out violently against religious people?
Among the panelists was Princeton professor Robert George, former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He concentrated on the battle with the religious persecutors who practice Islamic extremism, and said it must be a competition for hearts and minds, not just territory.
"This is an ideological struggle as well as a military struggle," George told CBN News. "It's a battle of ideas. And that means we have to promote good ideas in the face of bad ideas."
Why the Young Join ISIS
He also pointed out it's often a competition for those who'll shape the future.
"Young people especially want to belong to a cause," the professor explained. "They want to give themselves to something that's important. They want to make a difference."
George continued, "ISIS and like-minded terrorist groups are selling their ideology to young people around the world: young Muslims, converts to Islam. They're winning converts to Islam and to their particular extreme, radical, violent form of it, and we need to fight back."
Hultgren suggested one way is to remind all nations they've already signed on to uphold religious freedom.
"We seek to remind and encourage nations around the world of their obligations to defend their citizens' freedom of belief as stated in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Hultgren said.
Harder to Burn Down the House of a Friend
Rev. Thomas Reese, the current chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, listed literally dozens of programs, initiatives and measures he believes America and other religion-supporting nations can use to curtail the persecution and oppression dealt out by bad actors.
But he also pushed for small-scale actions done on a grassroots level. For instance, he suggested, "Inter-religious dialogue is extremely important. Because it's much harder to burn down somebody's home if you know them, if you've had them over to your house for dinner and you've had a conversation with them."
Commission co-chair Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., pointed out the U.S. needs to insist to all nations that all people's religious freedom must be protected if anyone wants to be truly free.
'For Me to Enjoy Freedom of Religion, Everyone Else Must Enjoy It'
The congressman pointed out, "In the end, the way we fight back against religious discrimination is by recalling universal principles: My right to practice my religion is only as safe as my Muslim brother's, my Jewish sister's, my Hindu father's, my Buddhist mother, my agnostic uncle, my atheist aunt. In order for me to enjoy freedom of religion, everyone else must enjoy it as well. That's the only way it works."
But George told CBN News it's rare for Western nations to stand up and push such crucial principles in the face of autocrats and radicals.
"Too often in the West we give nothing as an alternative," he said, adding, "We don't defend our Christian beliefs. We don't defend Jewish beliefs. We don't defend the principles of the American founding – the principles of liberty and justice and equality, of religious freedom and freedom of speech and freedom of assembly."
Hultgren and panelists at the hearing pushed for America to do more - more teaching, more preaching, lobbying, pressuring, applying more sanctions.
Watch the full hearing below.
Hultgren told those gathered at the hearing, "We believe the best way to counter religious violence is by promoting robust religious freedom policies."
That's why he and fellow lawmakers recently introduced House Resolution 319.
The Illinois congressman explained it's "a resolution reaffirming the commitment of the United States to promoting religious freedom globally in support of persecuted religious minorities around the world."
Have to Win in Both the Mind and on the Battlefield
George pointed out why all these pushes and suggestions add up to a crucial cause.
"If we don't win this battle in the realm of ideas, we're going to have one heck of a hard time winning it on the battlefield," he warned. "So it's got to be a both/and thing. It can't just be an either/or."
Reece explained that 84 percent of humanity identifies with a religion, but now three-quarters of humanity live in lands where their spiritual beliefs are repressed. It appears the struggle against religion is only growing.