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Religious freedom

OCT-27: International Religious Freedom Day.

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International Religious Freedom Day:

The U.S. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) on 1998-OCT-27. This act created:

  • An international religious freedom office in the U.S. State Department, and

  • An independent, bipartisan, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)

The Commission monitors religious freedom around the world and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State and Congress concerning countries that violate religious freedom.

International Religious Freedom Day is a time to consider the religious freedom and opppression experienced around the world. It is observed on the anniversary of the passage of IRFA.

During 2013-OCT, Robert P. George, the chair of USCIRF, wrote:

"The law also advocates strong and consistent U.S. participation in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations as a vital way to advance religious freedom and shine the spotlight on violators. 

How can the United States use the UN as a platform to support this bedrock liberty? 

One way is through its participation in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process through which the human rights performance of every UN member state is assessed.  USCIRF urges the United States to hold members accountable to internationally-recognized religious freedom standards.  Such a stance is particularly important regarding nations that USCIRF has recommended under IRFA as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, marking them as the world’s worst religious freedom abusers.  The U.S. government also should seek to highlight religious freedom concerns through country-specific resolutions in both the HRC and the General Assembly.

The United States should continue its firm, unequivocal support for the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.  The Special Rapporteur — currently Professor Heiner Bielefeldt of Germany — monitors freedom of religion or belief worldwide, communicates with governments about alleged violations, conducts country visits, and brings religious freedom concerns to the UN and public attention through reports and statements.  Further, the United States should seek the appointment or continuation of country-specific Special Rapporteurs for religious freedom violators, particularly CPC nations.

Finally, the United States should continue its vigorous opposition to efforts at the UN to restrict speech deemed religiously offensive or controversial.  For more than a decade, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), with its annual resolutions focusing on “combating defamation of religions,” had made the HRC and General Assembly centers of activity to establish a global blasphemy law violating freedom of religion and expression.  Along with members of Congress, the State Department, and key nongovernmental organizations, USCIRF helped bring about a marked decrease between 2008 and 2010 in support for these flawed resolutions.  As a result, in 2011 and 2012 both UN bodies adopted consensus resolutions which rightly focus on protecting individuals from discrimination or violence rather than shielding religions from criticism; protect the adherents of all religions or beliefs, instead of favoring one over others; and call for positive measures like education and outreach instead of legal restrictions on peaceful expression.  The new resolutions support criminalization only in the case of incitement to imminent violence.

USCIRF welcomes this new approach but remains concerned that OIC members have not abandoned their global anti-blasphemy efforts.  OIC member states continue to enforce repressive domestic blasphemy laws, and their leaders still refer publicly to the defamation-of-religions concept and call for laws against defamation.

The United States and other UN member states must remain vigilant against any efforts to erode the language of the new resolutions or to use other means to move toward global anti-blasphemy laws. 

In enacting IRFA fifteen years ago, Congress and the President recognized that religious freedom matters.  It is an integral part of our history and identity as a free nation, a key human right recognized by international law and treaty, a core component of our commitment to defend democracy globally, and a necessary element of our national security and our determination to ensure a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable world.  In the aftermath of International Religious Freedom Day, let us rededicate our efforts, at the UN and elsewhere, on behalf of this pivotal liberty." 1

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2013-OCT-27: Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement on 2013 International Religious Freedom Day:

He wrote:

"The freedom of religion is a priority for President Obama, as it is for me as Secretary of State, because it is essential to human dignity and individual liberty, and it remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement.

We call on the international community – governments, civil society, and citizens alike – to speak out against religious persecution, and to stand unequivocally for religious freedom.

We do so humbly, knowing that our own journey as Americans was not without challenge, that the Pilgrims who fled across the ocean to escape religious persecution and landed in my home state of Massachusetts, would soon witness congregations break away and found Connecticut and Rhode Island in search of their own freedom to worship.

We also know that centuries later, we would see Catholics persecuted simply for being who they were and believing what they believed. But even as we are humble about the challenges of our history, we are proud that no place has ever welcomed so many different faiths to worship so freely as here in the United States of America." 2

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2013-OCT-28: Statement on 2013 International Religious Freedom Day:

Rep ILena Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who chairs the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee in the House, issued this statement on increased attacks on Christian communities in the Middle East and elsewhere:

"As we mark International Religious Freedom Day and celebrate the freedom that we in America have to worship freely and openly, it is also incumbent upon us all to speak out and call attention to the plight of those who worship in secret, fearing reprisals. This past year, the world has witnessed unprecedented attacks against Christian communities in the Middle East and beyond.

In Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood extremists are making scapegoats of Coptic Christians following Morsi’s ouster as horrendous acts of targeted violence continue to occur on a daily basis and hundreds of Coptic women and girls continue to be abducted and forced to endure unimaginable human rights abuses. In Syria, ancient Christian communities are caught in a raging conflict between the brutal Assad regime and extremists forces who view them as infidels deserving death. And in Iran, detentions and the use of the death penalty have continued unabated, with Christians still facing state-sanctioned persecution and are unable to practice their faith. Just last week, four Iranian Christians received 80 lashes just for drinking wine in a communion ceremony that is a central practice of the Christian faith.

These attacks against Christians are not isolated to the Middle East. In Pakistan nearly 100 people were killed in a suicide bombing on a church last month, Christians were targeted in the Westgate mall massacre in Kenya, and Christians continue to face persecution in China, North Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere.  The United States must stand unwavering in its support for the fundamental rights of people to worship freely and openly and must continue to advance the cause of religious freedom worldwide." 3

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2013-OCT-29: Saadia Faruqi suggests how to celebrate Religious Freedom Day:

Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. She wrote on what an individual American can do to promote religious freedom:

"As individuals and citizens of this great nation built on the notions of plurality and freedom, we can take some of the following steps today to promote and encourage these ideals around the world:

  1. Contact your elected officials to ask them to vote against laws and propositions that may be discriminatory in nature.

  2. Get a group of like-minded people together to participate in grassroots community activities promoting tolerance.

  3. Join interfaith discussions or social action groups. The more we know about 'the other' the less we can hate him or her.

  4. Bring attention to organizations within the U.S. and abroad that actively discriminate against religious minorities.

  5. Financially support organizations that are working towards education, poverty and peace building in poor nations. Extremism and intolerance flourishes wherever there is a lack of education and peace.

  6. Stay informed about issues at home and in international news. Go beyond the headlines to learn about issues and challenges.

  7. Write articles, blog posts and letters to the editor in publications of other countries. With the rise of the internet, much more is accessible to the average writer.

For those who are religious, I would add 'pray' to the above list. Otherwise, I think these steps are within each American’s ability. May religious freedom flourish in our times and the time of our future generations. 4

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Related essay:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Robert P. George, "Opinion: Remembering International Religious Freedom Day," The Hill, 2013-OCT-30, at: http://thehill.com/
  2. John Kerry, "Kerry Issues Statement Marking Oct. 27 As International Religious Freedom Day," Religion Clause, 2013-OCT-29, at: http://religionclause.blogspot.ca/
  3. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, "As we Celebrate International Religious Freedom Day, We Must Not Forget the Plight of Christian Communities, Says Ros-Lehtinen," personal web site, 2013-OCT-28, at: http://ros-lehtinen.house.gov/
  4. Saadia Faruqi, "How to Celebrate Religious Freedom Day," Tikkun Daily, 2013-OCT-29, at: http://www.tikkun.org/

Site navigation:

Home > Religious Freedom > here

or Home > Important essays > Religious Freedom > here

or Home > Religious information > Religious Freedom > here

or Home > Human rights > Religious Freedom > here

Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-JAN-06
Latest update: 2014-JAN-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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