Martyrdom has long been associated with religious faith. But the visions of a Christian being fed to the lions or a Jew being marched into the ovens of a Nazi death camp have their own parallels in the late 1990s.

If a religion exists, it's persecuted somewhere in the world. A report issued by the State Department in July found examples of harassment or restrictions on belief aimed at Christians in 78 countries. That didn't count harassment of those of other faiths, including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.America is no exception.

The Anti-Defamation League tries to track hate crimes - and religious hate crimes make up a fair percentage. Emeri Handler, associate director of the Central Pacific region, said the crimes are sometimes hard to count and categorize. Was someone targeted because of color, political viewpoint or religion?

Some types of hateful behavior, while not crimes, are clearly persecution. Children tease or shun each other because of religious differences, she said.

Sometimes the intolerance results from ignorance or lack of thought, like teachers who schedule events on religious holidays when some of the children will have to miss them. Particularly in the United States, non-Christians - including Jews and Muslims, who belong to major world religions - are often asked or forced to work on religious holy days.

Some religious intolerance takes a very dark form.

"The rush to judgment after the Oklahoma (City) bombing cost us a lot," Oussam Jammal of the Mosque Foundation of Chicago recently told a group of religion reporters. "Our women were easy prey because they wore the traditional garb."

"People are persecuted whenever the (United States) goes to war with a country," said Hanna Freij, assistant professor of political science at the University of Utah. "After the Oklahoma bombing, people attacked the homes of Arabs and Muslims in Oklahoma. There was overall increased suspicion during the first gulf war of anyone with Middle Eastern roots."

Not by the majority. But there are always a few who have their own ideas of "justice," much of it administered in the name of God.

In fact, across the United States, there were several reports of Muslims who were attacked and beaten by angry people who assumed the bombing was an act of terrorism from the Middle East. They targeted Muslims in particular, in part because they were easy to recognize, Jammal said. Forget the fact that fewer than 20 percent of Muslims are Arab. Or that the bombers turned out to be home grown.

Iqbal Hossain knows all about religious bias, too. As president of the Islamic Society of Utah, he's often front-and-center in news stories about Muslims. And he's felt some of the backlash, as well.

A few years ago, he took part in a rally against violence during the Bosnia war. At home, he received threatening phone calls: "I think you should all die," a voice said. The call was very ironic, he said, because he is a Muslim who was born in Bangladesh and is now an American citizen. He has no ties to the Middle East.

Perhaps no people have suffered historically from persecution as much as the Jews. In America, though, things are much better, said Rabbi Frederick Wenger of Congregation Kol Ami.

"The (United States) has been very good to the Jewish community," he said. "If you want to talk insensitivity, it's there. But in terms of actual persecution it's too strong a word" in most cases.

Even that comfort varies from place to place "depending on the nature of the Jewish community and the nature of the general society in which that Jewish community finds itself," the rabbi said. For example, many Jews are in a "mass exodus" out of Montreal, Canada, as the anti-semitic French Nationalist movement thrives.

Last week, during a multicultural protest of American plans to bomb Iraq, several drivers honked their horns on State Street in Salt Lake City and yelled epithets at a crowd they perceived as Arabic - and Muslim. Of the 100 or so in attendance at the rally, that description fit a dozen, at best. And Iraqis here are certainly not blocking weapons inspections in Iraq.

The perception lingers that most Muslims are Arab, Hossain said. In fact, China has at least 50 million Muslims. They are in the former Soviet Union, Africa and America. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States, with an estimated 10 million adherents.

But logic - and fact - are seldom allowed to interfere with hatred, Jammal told the reporters.

Such hatred takes many forms. But religious persecution is one of the most virulent.

"Freedom of religion is a universal human right that demands international attention," according to the U.S. State Department's "Overview to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997," which was released last month. "Religious persecution not only is an intolerable invasion of an individual's basic human rights, but it can lead to grave consequences for political and economic stability.

"If people lack the freedom to practice their faith, it is likely that other human rights will be restricted and that intolerance and violence will be more prevalent. Lack of these rights also impedes efforts to establish societies that promote liberty and justice."

The report cited specific examples:

- In China, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists are harassed and even imprisoned. A Tibetan lama was kidnapped and his family threatened, as well.

- Saudi Arabia's government requires citizens to be Muslims and promises dire consequences to anyone who converts to another faith. The Iranian government calls such conversion apostasy and the penalty is death. The Iranian government also has taken a systematic approach to eradicating Bahai'ism.

- In Sudan, the Islamic government is embroiled in a civil war against non-Muslims and uses violence like rape and child abduction to force conversions. Some Muslims are also targeted.

- Scientologists, including actor John Travolta, have complained about harassment and discrimination in Germany.

- Other countries, like North Korea, restrict any religious activity that isn't "officially sanctioned."

- In Burma, government troops have attacked members of the Christian Karen ethnic minority, reportedly raping women and "forcing men to act as porters."

The report was no surprise to most people. History is rife with examples of religious persecution. Who hasn't heard what Saddam Hussein's government did to the Kurds and Assyrian Christians in the north and the Shiite Muslims in the south of Iraq?

Or what Hitler did to the Jews in World War II?

Persecution, especially of Christians, has received so much attention recently that Congress is considering a bill that would put trade sanctions or withhold all but humanitarian aid for countries that persecute people for their religious beliefs. The bill has paired politically disparate groups like the Christian Coalition and Amnesty International. It was in support of the legislation that Gary Bauer, leader of the conservative Christian Family Research Council, linked arms with robed Buddhists in a White House protest rally recently.

The coalitions formed by opposition to the bill have been just as bizarre in their makeup: the president, big business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and organized Christian groups speaking out against the bill, mainly because of the sanctions it would impose and its effects on international trade.