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LANCASTER, England—More than 400 years ago, King James of Scotland amended Exodus 22.18 to read: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

By changing the word “poisoner” to “witch,” he made women the primary target of persecution. Perhaps more than any other line of sacred text, this biblical edict has been used to justify horrific human rights violations and fuel the epidemic of witchcraft accusations and persecution across the globe. Widespread abuses have been recorded across all continents and, like the medieval witch hunts, can be seen as part of a wider campaign of violence against women conducted overwhelmingly by men in positions of authority.

Fast-forward four centuries, and I’ve received a phone call alerting me to a case of modern-day witch hunting in my hometown of Lancaster. The charity I co-founded, Stepping Stones Nigeria, has supported hundreds of...

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