Nina Shea is a human rights attorney and director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute in D.C. She is the co-author of a new book, "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians," and joins her fellow authors and moderator Eric Metaxas for a panel discussion at noon Wednesday at the institute. Find out more at

Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?

I'm a practicing Roman Catholic. I was born in the faith and raised in the faith, and then left and came back. So I love the whole thing -- the sacraments, the Mass, the theological tradition that has been shaping the philosophical argument behind the pro-life movement and has been at the forefront of the opposition to the culture of death.

However, my universe is very interfaith. I work for a secular office, have a secular approach to human rights. I was raised in an interfaith family and have an interfaith marriage.

I think it's hard for Americans to imagine Christians being persecuted. Can you give us an idea of the extent of the persecution worldwide?

There's intense suffering on account of one's religious beliefs in many regions of the world. Christians, for example, are imprisoned and summarily executed in North Korea for even possessing a Bible. The Christians of the Middle East are being driven out of their ancient homelands as we speak. There are Nigerians bracing for an Easter like last year's, in which their churches were blown up, full of Easter morning worshippers. So it is unimaginable. There's a Christian mother of five on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy. There are five Christians on trial in Iran for evangelizing. It just goes on and on. People were being tortured to death in Libya just this month, a country the United States helped liberate. When we talk about persecution, it's not just discrimination or marginalization. It's actual violence and thwarting of their ability to practice their faith.

I think this religious persecution is the worst human rights abuse going on today, in sheer numbers, because of the number of people involved, not just Christians. But Christians are the largest group because they're found everywhere. Tibetan Buddhists are in China, but they're not in Pakistan. Christians are found in both places. This is one of the great untold human rights stories.

Why do you think it is untold? What kind of reception do you get from lawmakers and others?

It's uncomfortable for many people; they think it's politically incorrect to talk about this. Their world vision is maybe that the Christians are the persecutors, not the victims. In the Arab Spring, you see the Christian situation get immeasurably worse, and there is very little news coverage of that fact. I think it's almost perceived as a form of insult to Muslims if we raise the fact that Christians are being persecuted under Islamist rule. What's shocking is that we are watching the religious cleansing of the Middle East. This is monumentally significant in history, that Christianity would be forcibly driven out this region -- that for the first time in 2,000 years, the Arab world would be wholly Islamicized.

At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?

Truth. Seeking the truth, and telling the truth, once you feel like you believe you've found the truth. I think it's important that religious believers around the world, whatever their religion is, have the freedom to seek the truth. That's at the core of every human being. It's quintessentially human to want to seek the truth and then to act according to your conscience.

- Liz Essley