Saturday, May 8, 2010

Does Obama Care about Religious Freedom?

Well, according to a bipartisan US commission on religious freedom, not really. In an article in USA Today entitled "Obama blasted, 13 nations cited on religious freedom," we read:
A bipartisan U.S. commission on religious freedom says President Obama is softening his stand on protecting the right to one's faith at a time when religious persecution is on the rise, according to an annual report to be released today.

The 11th annual report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says Obama's recent call for nations to respect "freedom of worship" rather than "religious freedom" allows regimes to claim they are not oppressing certain religions if those faiths exist in a form acceptable to the regime.

"When you start narrowing the discussion, the signal the administration is sending to the international community is that as long as they prop up a few churches or houses of worship (of minority faiths), there isn't going to be a problem," Leonard Leo, the chairman of the commission, told USA TODAY.

The report also criticizes the administration for failing to nominate an ambassador-at-large for religious freedom.

The ambassador-at-large post, which falls under the State Department, is a requirement of a 1998 law that mandated religious freedom be an aim of U.S. diplomacy.

The commission was established to monitor religious freedom and issue an annual report on U.S. efforts in that area. Commission members are appointed by Congress and the White House. It recommends which countries should be named "countries of particular concern" (or CPCs) for egregious violations and suggests penalties.

Among the 13 countries that the State Department has already named CPCs are Burma, China, Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. The label requires the administration to consider whether to levy sanctions against the nations.

Read it all here. A summary of the report itself given at the news conference at which it was released can be read here. The Commission's informative website is here. An independent watchdog group that does good work in this area is Freedom House.

One of the key issues identified by the Commission is the attempt by Islamic countries to make any criticism of Islam illegal. Perhaps the Obama administration finds the opposition to blasphemy laws by the Commission inconvenient for its policy of appeasement.

In recent years, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has been very concerned about the efforts by some United Nations member-states to create an international legal norm or redefine existing norms to ban the so-called defamation of religions.

Essentially, what these states are seeking is a global blasphemy law to protect Islam. Its proponents argue that such a ban on defamation of religions would help address the very real problem of religious persecution and discrimination. It would not. Instead, it would exacerbate these problems. It also would undermine fundamental individual rights. In countries that have blasphemy laws, like Egypt and Pakistan, which are leading countries in this effort, they are used to intimidate and arrest members of religious minority communities and dissenting members of the majority community.

International human rights law protects individuals, not beliefs or belief systems. Every individual has the right to freedom of religion or belief but that right does not include a right to have one’s religion or belief be free from comment or criticism. To the contrary, religious freedom and pluralism necessarily involve discussing, questioning and even criticizing each other’s religions or beliefs.
You can narrow freedom of religion to freedom of worship and leave the door open to blasphemy laws and laws against converting people from Islam to any other religion. You can have freedom of worship while essentially privatizing religion, which seems to be the Obama administration's preference.

I guess all that "hope and change" stuff was actually directed toward atheists, radical Inmans and dictators, not religious people suffering persecution. It is good to have that little misunderstanding cleared up before the next election.

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