Category archives: Religious Liberty

Fear Not the Establishment Clause When Engaging with Religion Abroad

by Andrew Rock

September 3, 2019

On the heels of the Trump administration’s successful second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted at the State Department, and in the throes of planning for the upcoming UN General Assembly later this month in New York City, there is ample opportunity to consider how the United States might engage to promote religious freedom abroad. As it does so, perennial concerns about engaging anything to do with “religion” are sure to arise once again.

Religious freedom is a well-established facet of international human rights law. Yet, many U.S. government officials are hesitant to engage on the issue for fear of violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Not only are their fears groundless, but our failure to engage religion as a serious topic when over 80 percent of the world is religious (a percentage which is growing) seriously hampers our foreign policy efforts. If we don’t understand the world, how can we engage with it?

On the contrary, the United States’ promotion of religious liberty abroad does not violate the Establishment Clause. It is well within the law, and an important foreign policy priority which should be advanced through the various measures, including training American diplomats to address religious discrimination as they serve on the frontline of U.S. foreign policy.

The Establishment Clause does prohibit the government from creating an “establishment of religion.” The many court decisions surrounding it are complex and seemingly contradictory. However, a look at relevant legal decisions shows that promoting religious liberty abroad is perfectly acceptable under the Establishment Clause.

The only court case directly addressing how the Establishment Clause applies abroad is a 1991 case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Lamont v. Woods. In Lamont, the court found that sending money to a religious school overseas did not violate the Establishment Clause, even if sending money to a similar school within the United States would. The court reasoned that although regular Establishment Clause doctrines apply abroad, there could be more flexibility overseas in order to accommodate a significant government interest.

Religious freedom abroad is in America’s national interest. Research shows that robust religious freedom protections allow countries to thrive economically. Religious freedom also mitigates regional security threats and is an essential aspect of a secure and stable society.

Religious liberty is also a key component of international human rights law. It is ensconced in documents such as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States specifically declared its interest in promoting religious liberty worldwide in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. This means that promoting religious freedom is a valid secular interest of the United States government. Thus, it is not a violation of the Establishment Clause to train diplomats to engage in religious liberty issues. Rather, it is an important way that the United States can advance its foreign policy interests, and promote human rights abroad, in accordance with its long-stated interest in doing so.

Thus, promoting religious liberty abroad is a legitimate government goal that is well rooted in First Amendment precedent. The United States can train its diplomats in religious freedom issues without running afoul of the Establishment Clause. Just this year, the State Department and USAID both introduced mandatory religious freedom training for Foreign Service Officers. As a part of this effort, they will be taught to cooperate with faith leaders from diverse communities and promote religious freedom in the context in which they serve. This is an important step in fully integrating international religious freedom into U.S. foreign policy. Such training will give American diplomats the tools they need to advance our foreign policy and engage with some of the most pressing human rights issues in the world today—which are completely legitimate, constitutional, and necessary governmental objectives.

Andrew Rock is a law student at the University of Mississippi School of Law, and a former intern at Family Research Council.

Religious Freedom Is at Stake in Hong Kong. We Must Not Look the Other Way.

by Arielle Del Turco

August 27, 2019

Hong Kong needs to win this fight. Or else it will soon be like China.” This was one student’s answer when asked why he participates in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong even as the risks increase.

Pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong have captured international attention and their movement isn’t fading away, even in the 12th week of protests. Last Sunday, 1.7 million Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest in the rain—for reference, the total population is only 7.3 million. 

The protests were sparked by a proposed extradition bill that would allow people from Hong Kong to be extradited to China. Critics of the bill believe that it would provide a legal excuse for China to pick up anyone from Hong Kong and detain them in mainland China, where the legal system is corrupt and judges follow the orders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The protests have since evolved to represent a larger pro-democracy movement as the city fears the possibility of mainland China’s encroaching influence in Hong Kong.

Those fears are not unfounded. Hong Kong has thrived with a high degree of autonomy since the city was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle. It currently enjoys an independent judiciary, more protection of basic rights, and fewer restrictions on freedom of expression than mainland China. Churches in Hong Kong experience the same level of religious freedom experienced in the West, and Christian activists have been at the forefront of Hong Kong protests. 

Those in mainland China, meanwhile, are subject to the tight control of the Chinese Communist Party and human rights abuses. Nothing is sacred to the CCP—including religion. The CCP allows legal status for some religious organizations, but these state-sanctioned churches encounter government interference. Minors and college students have been barred from entering all churches. The government has also started to install surveillance cameras in churches.

Last year, the Chinese government started a “thought reform” campaign to promote what they call “Chinese Christianity.” The plan includes retranslating the Bible to find its similarities with socialism. China is fine with allowing Christianity as long as it can be used as a platform to advance the Communist party.

House churches, which lack government approval, are completely shut down by the government.

In 2018 alone, it is estimated that 100,000 or more Christians were arrested for violating China’s strict regulations for religious affairs.

Unlike their neighbors in mainland China, Hong Kongers have free access to information. They know what’s going on in China. And Christians in Hong Kong fear that if the Chinese government exerts more control over Hong Kong, they will begin to face the same religious freedom restrictions Christians face there.

Across the bay from Hong Kong, in China’s Shenzhen province, hundreds of armed Chinese police have been deployed in a show of force. Chinese officials warned that Beijing will forcibly suppress the protests if they become more chaotic. If China’s People’s Armed Police crackdown on Hong Kong protests, it would signal a significant loss of Hong Kong’s autonomy. To silently allow the encroachment of Chinese government control into Hong Kong would be to watch a regime that abuses human rights take over a flourishing city. And that would be a tragedy. As Hong Kongers cry out for democracy, their pleas should not fall on deaf ears.

There is a deep longing within mankind to be free. People throughout the ages have been willing to fight and die for their freedom. Yet, the communist-led Chinese regime believes its residents are fundamentally materialistic and can therefore be easily manipulated and controlled. In defiance of this, Hong Kong is now in its 12th consecutive week of protests.

U.S. leaders shouldn’t ignore this issue. Ultimately, we don’t want to see Hong Kong subject to the same human rights and religious freedom violations seen elsewhere in China. At the very least, that means sending the message to China that the U.S. would not look kindly upon Chinese intervention in Hong Kong. There’s too much at stake if we look the other way.

What the LA Times Gets Wrong About Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber , David Closson

August 21, 2019

Last week, the Department of Labor issued a proposed rule clarifying the rights of religious employers to contract with the government without being forced to violate their religious beliefs. After decades of court decisions and disparate interpretations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is no wonder that some religious organizations are fearful of working with the federal government because they don’t have clarity on what they can and can’t do. It makes sense that the Department of Labor would want to clarify their rights now.

Yet yesterday’s Los Angeles Times’ Editorial Board threw cold water on this idea, claiming the proposed rule would “dramatically expand the [religious liberty] exemption,” which they believe makes “little legal sense” and threatens to erode what was “once broad and bipartisan support for the idea that the government should accommodate sincere religious convictions.”

Yet are these gripes accurate? Hardly. In reality, as the proposed rule makes clear, the Department of Labor is simply aligning its interpretation of religious exemptions with years of federal court decisions and the definitions in Title VII itself. For years, Title VII has protected religious people from a wide array of faith groups equally. So what is the LA Times so scared of? The reason seems revealed in the title: “Trump’s new ‘religious freedom’ rule looks like a license to discriminate.”

Unfortunately, the assumption of the LA Times appears to be that Christian conservatives are using religious freedom as a “pretext for discrimination.” Yet LGBT issues are not specifically addressed anywhere in the proposed rule. It is the idea that LGBT-related claims might be affected by religious freedom claims that has the LA Times up in arms. If the editors read the rule more carefully, they would see that it actually addresses sincerity as an important component of a religious freedom claim, and “conceal[ing] discrimination” has been dealt with by courts assessing these Title VII claims. The LA Times and others espousing this line of thinking don’t get to pick and choose when religious freedom applies. It either does or it doesn’t, and if the Title VII definitions were acceptable for decades, they should still be acceptable today.

Religious freedom is a virtue that benefits the common good; it does not favor Republicans over Democrats or Roman Catholics over Muslims. Thankfully, the Trump administration recognizes these basic truths and is protecting religious employers of all faith backgrounds. If the LA Times researched how the Title VII religious exemption has functioned in the past, it would see that it benefits various religious minorities in a host of different circumstances. Indeed, one of the cases referenced in the proposed rule—LeBoon v. Lancaster Jewish Cmty. Ctr. Ass’n—features a Jewish organization. Just a few years ago, the Supreme Court—in an opinion authored by Justice Scalia—applied Title VII to protect a Muslim employee’s rights against her employer.

Thus, to argue that faith-based organizations should not be able to run their business according to their religious beliefs represents a truncated view of religious freedom. There is no legitimate reason that a faith-based organization should lose out on a federal contract for simply adhering to their religious beliefs, and the proposed rule is right to remedy that.

The LA Times editorial is a reminder that people from all religious backgrounds must continue to help shed light on the reality that religious freedom is a good that serves all people.

3 Reasons Why Christians Should Care When Muslims are Persecuted

by Luke Isbell

August 6, 2019

Horrifying stories like the Sri Lanka Easter attacks and the “sinicization” of Christianity in China exemplify the terrible state of persecution for Christians worldwide. Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, and the church has drawn together to support those affected through prayer and other means. However, in the midst of internal struggle, it easy to forget to look outside of our own faith and remember those of other faiths who are persecuted in other areas of the world.

Right now, one to three million ethnic Muslim Uyghurs are being imprisoned, tortured, and killed in the western Xinjiang province of China by the Communist Party of China. In Myanmar, 1.3 million ethnic Muslim Rohingya have been displaced by what has been labeled the Rohingya Genocide which started three years ago. And in India, Hindu nationalism is sparking tremendous violence, sexual abuse, and killings against Muslims in the country.

Muslims follow closely behind Christians as the second-most persecuted faith group worldwide. There is much that the Christian community can be doing to speak out in defense of their lives, and it couldn’t come at a more defining time.

Not only are Muslims persecuted in some way or unable to freely practice their faith in 140 countries around the globe, but persecuted Muslims are regularly being abandoned by other Muslim-majority countries who refuse to speak on their behalf. In the past several days, over 50 countries have signed a letter actually voicing support for China’s “deradicalization” policies in Xinjiang, claiming they have showed economic and social progress. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan are just a few of the countries that signed the letter. In doing so, they have chosen to abandon fellow Muslims.

As the state of religious freedom grows darker around the world, a window is opening for the United States to be able to engage on it. Here are three reasons why Christians here at home should advocate for the freedom of all people around the world.

1. We Are Called to Advocacy

Christian theology equips us to see people as human and beautiful creations made by God, and leads us to fight for the God-given, unalienable rights of every human. Every person is made in the image of God, and deserves our advocacy on that basis. Helping bring others to freedom is a necessary task, but not an easy one.

Our faith also leads us to bring peace to the world. One of the many names given to Christ in Isaiah 9:6 is the Prince of Peace, and as His children, we are to mimic Him and take on His attributes. He is the sun and we are the moon, reflecting His light to a broken world. As Jesus reminds us, “[b]lessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Just as Christ came not to save the righteous, but the broken (Mark 2:17), so are we to reach outside of the Christian church and love those who do not have Christ.

Christ sees every person as having worth and dignity, deserving to be treated as infinitely valuable human beings. What better modern example of the sacrificial, all-encompassing love of Christ is there than fighting for those who have been cast aside by the international community?

2. We Must Be Good Stewards of Our Own Blessings

Our own country has a rich history and tradition of religious freedom, which we have the duty to protect and advocate for others around the world who do not have such freedom. Our own Declaration of Independence acknowledges that all people have “certain unalienable rights” with which we are “endowed by our Creator.” The First Amendment to our Constitution provides for the “free exercise” of religion to all people and prevents the government from “establishing” an official church and requiring people to attend it. Much later, these principles were reflected in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all have the right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.”

We should hold our elected leaders accountable to uphold these freedoms at home and share them with the world. Among other things, we should ensure that trade talks with foreign nations incorporate religious freedom, and that foreign actors who violate religious freedom are sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act or related legal authorities. Additionally, we should encourage our leaders and diplomats to actively speak on the importance of religious freedom when engaging the international community.

3. Advocating for Others Makes Them More Likely to Advocate for Us

When we speak up for others, they are more likely to speak up for us. A few weeks ago, I attended the Holocaust Museum here in Washington, D.C. One wall displayed a quote by Martin Niemöller, who was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during World War II:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

 Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

We must speak up for others, and advocate for their lives as we would advocate for our own. Someday, they may be in a position to help us.

Many people are oppressed for their faith around the world. Many Muslims live in fear of their own governments, which stand ready to stamp out any religious dissent. Fighting for freedom in these places comes at the price of lives, families, and livelihoods.

We need to stand alongside these people and speak on their behalf. Advocating for them is one of the greatest messages of love we can communicate, so let us speak for their rights.

Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

California Wants to Force Teachers to Propagate the LGBT Agenda

by Nicolas Reynolds

August 2, 2019

Parents across the country are rightfully concerned about efforts in the public school system to indoctrinate their children with a leftist agenda. In California, the LGBT lobby is taking this effort a step further: attempting to indoctrinate teachers.

Offered as an attempt to create a “safer environment” for LGBTQ students, A.B. 493 would require junior high and high school teachers to receive training on how to “support” students struggling with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. However, this “training” of teachers to “mentor” such students looks much more like state-sponsored, politically-correct coercion. This piece of legislation strong-arms public school teachers who are Christian to violate their consciences, affirming beliefs contrary to their sincerely-held religious beliefs.

To ensure all teachers leave their religious convictions at the door, specific “training”—adhering to curriculum written by “leading experts in supporting LGBTQ pupils”—is required to be taken by every junior high and high school teacher in public schools. Additionally, this training requires “sustained input and participation” from teachers, guaranteeing that teachers are understanding and complying with the LGBTQ agenda. The training required by this bill is a blatant violation of a teacher’s right to think freely and counsel adolescents according to their genuine and true religious worldview.

Two school districts in California (Moraga School District and Unified School District) have already implemented this “training” for teachers. Those having undergone the training have explained how the sessions did far more than merely inform teachers about how to counsel pupils who identify as LGBTQ. Rather, teachers were asked invasive questions regarding their own personal upbringing, such as whether or not they were raised to “believe there are two genders,” and if their “parents ever discuss[ed] choices… of gender.” Teachers that explained that their parents taught biblical (and scientifically correct) beliefs like the binary nature of sex were shamed and told their views were backward and wrong. Trainees were given additional information about how to deal with LGBTQ-identifying students and were explicitly told that they must keep a student’s sexual orientation and identity secret from parents. 

Though no school can or will ever replace the necessary nurturing that a family gives a child, teachers are sometimes the only ones that can come close to giving students the objective wisdom and care that they are tragically not receiving at home. A.B 493 would successfully ban all junior high and high school teachers in public schools from giving any ounce of honest guidance about sexual orientation and gender identity to students who come and ask them for direction. As mandated by the bill, teachers would be required to affirm LGBT identities and refer students to activist organizations.

 A.B. 493 undermines the ability of students to receive proper care and desecrates teachers’ rights to govern themselves according to their religious convictions. Partner with FRC and lend your voice in opposition to this destructive piece of legislation that deviates from the core principles this country was founded upon. If you or someone you know lives in California, click here to take action and oppose this bill that indoctrinates public school teachers.

Nicolas Reynolds is an intern at Family Research Council.

Pakistan’s “Blasphemy” Laws are Killing Religious Minorities. 72 Other Countries Are Following Suit.

by Arielle Del Turco

July 31, 2019

Faraz Pervaiz, a Pakistani Christian refugee in Bangkok, is pleading for help from Western governments as he tries to flee from the multitude of death threats he is currently receiving. Pervaiz is the victim of a major threat to religious freedom around the globe—blasphemy laws. In 2013, Pervaiz began speaking out in defense of Christians after a mob attack on a Christian neighborhood in Pakistan. He led protests that demanded police intervention and he published works online that were critical of Islamic theology and its application in the government of Pakistan. That’s more than enough to be convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan, where it is a crime to “outrag[e]” or “wound[] the religious feelings of any person” by utterance, sound, or gesture.

Pervaiz’s outspokenness forced him to flee Pakistan in 2014 following a video he posted online in which he and his father criticized Islamic teachings and the Pakistani government. After he had fled the country, a Muslim cleric accused him of blasphemy and the government filed a criminal case against Pervaiz following outside pressure to do so.

A Global Problem

However, Pakistan’s government is not the only problem. Political parties and average people continue to rally around these blasphemy laws and have shown a willingness to punish those who violate them even if the accused are acquitted by the courts. Parvaiz knows this all too well. Islamic political parties have offered 10 million Pakistani rupees (around $82,000) to anyone who would kill Parvaiz. Mullahs have also led demonstrations where the crowds were encouraged to chant: “There is only one punishment for insulting the Prophet. Sever the head from the body! Sever the head from the body!” As a refugee in Bangkok, Pervaiz still hasn’t found safety. His address in Thailand was recently revealed in a video posted to social media, prompting a new round of death threats. Pervaiz is now pleading for help from Western governments—before it’s too late.

While a stunning 72 countries (37 percent of the world) have blasphemy laws, Pakistan stands at the forefront as an example of a country where blasphemy laws are regularly used to harm religious minorities. Earlier this month, news broke that two Pakistani teenagers were arrested for receiving “blasphemous sketches” to an app on their phone—a charge they denied. One illiterate Pakistani couple is facing the threat of death row after they were charged with “insulting the Quran” and “insulting the Prophet” via text message.

Opposition to blasphemy laws is an issue that is starting to gain traction among religious freedom advocates, and deservedly so. At the 2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, 27 countries co-signed a joint statement of concern that calls on countries which have blasphemy, apostasy, or other laws that restrict freedoms of religious expression to repeal them.

A Need for International Attention

Recognizing the significance of this global issue, Rep. Jamie Raskin and Rep. Mark Meadows introduced a resolution last week in the U.S. House of Representative which calls for the “global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostacy laws.”

The resolution cites U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) findings of “egregious examples of the enforcement of blasphemy laws and vigilante violence connected to blasphemy allegations in Pakistan, where blasphemy charges are common and numerous individuals are in prison, with a high percentage sentenced to death or to life in prison.” The legislation also notes USCIRF’s knowledge of 40 individuals who are serving life sentences or are on death row for their blasphemy charges in Pakistan.

With this resolution, the House would recognize that “blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws inappropriately position governments as arbiters of religious truth and empower officials to impose religious dogma on individuals or minorities through the power of the government or through violence sanctioned by the government.” This is a statement that deserves to be heartily endorsed by the U.S. House and a sentiment that needs to be heard by governments that insist on keeping these laws.

Government Weaponization of Religious Dogma Must End

This past year saw the acquittal and release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian farmworker accused of insulting Islam. In what may have been the most well-known blasphemy case to the Western world, religious freedom advocates rejoiced at news of Bibi’s safe arrival in Canada when she was reunited with her family. While this was a tremendous victory, Bibi isn’t the only religious minority to suffer under Pakistani blasphemy laws—many continue to feel the burden of these laws.

The widespread use of blasphemy laws to suppress the expression of religious beliefs (or, the misuse of blasphemy laws to settle unrelated disputes) is alarming. The efforts put forth by the co-signatories of the ministerial’s statement of concern, as well as Rep. Raskin and Rep. Meadows, are critical. Pakistan (and other countries that maintain blasphemy laws) should feel the pressure of growing international attention on these repressive laws and the ways in which they are abused.

New York is the Latest State to Trample on the Hopes of Foster Children

by Kayla Sargent

July 31, 2019

When I was about eight years old, some family friends of mine fostered (and eventually adopted) a severely neglected 18-month-old girl. She was placed in foster care after her parents, both addicted to drugs, would not change her diaper or feed her, sometimes for days on end. When she first entered the custody of her new foster parents, she gorged herself at mealtime until she became sick because for her entire life, she never knew when or from where her next meal would come.

Most children in the foster care system have suffered unimaginable trauma. The 500,000 children in foster care are significantly more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other developmental and behavioral issues compared to children who do not spend time in the system.

One might think that, at the very least, ensuring that children have a roof over their heads and three meals a day would not be a political issue. One would think that everyone would want these children to have the best care possible. And one would think that faith-based adoption agencies, given the emphasis that the Bible places on caring for widows and orphans, ought to be able to help provide for these children without fear of religious persecution.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

New Hope Family Services of New York is suing the state after being given an ultimatum by the state’s Office of Child and Family Services stating that they would have to start “placing children with unmarried couples and same-sex couples” or they would be “choosing to close.” It is not because they are not providing adequate care to children, or because they are unable to place children in homes, but because they refuse to allow same-sex couples or couples who are unmarried to adopt.

They are not alone. Across the nation, Christian organizations that believe children belong with a mother and a father are being forced to close their doors because of alleged “discrimination.” In 2018, the state of Illinois forced Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Springfield to close, displacing roughly 3,000 children. Earlier that same year, the city of Philadelphia “barred Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Social Services” from serving children in need because of their beliefs about marriage.

What is especially tragic about these shutdowns is that they not only affect the employees of these agencies—they impact hundreds, if not thousands, of children in desperate need of a loving home.

In Obergefell v. Hodges, we were promised that, “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.” These shutdowns are a clear violation of this principle handed down by the Supreme Court, and are currently being challenged.

Regardless of your stance on marriage, and even your stance on discrimination, children should not be the ones that are punished in the ongoing war being waged on religious liberty by LGBT activists. When “equality” demands that certain adoption providers be shut down and children are denied adequate care and a loving home with a mother and a father as a result, it is no longer equality, but oppression. Just as little girls should not have to gorge themselves for fear of not having enough to eat in the future, faith-based adoption providers should not have to violate their religious beliefs in order to continue helping children in need find loving homes.

Kayla Sargent is an intern at Family Research Council.

The State Department’s Ministerial on Religious Freedom is Over. Now What?

by Arielle Del Turco , Luke Isbell

July 23, 2019

This year’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the U.S. State Department last week saw over 1,000 civil society and political leaders from around the world gather in Washington D.C. for a three-day summit to discuss religious freedom issues and solutions.

The ministerial itself is encouraging. That leaders and advocates of all faiths from all corners of the world can unite on the common goal of promoting religious freedom and protecting religious minorities is a step in the right direction. However, the stories of survivors of religious persecution featured at the ministerial serve to remind us of the work that still needs to be done.

Just last week, Pew Research Center released a new report which tracks government restrictions and social hostility to religion around the world over a 10-year period between 2007 and 2017. According to the report, “83 countries (42%) experienced high or very high levels of overall restrictions on religion from government actions or hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups” in 2017. The enormity of this issue demonstrates the need for action both from U.S. and foreign leaders.

Thankfully, several good initiatives were announced during the ministerial. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of a new International Religious Freedom Alliance. This alliance will provide a way for like-minded countries to work together to advance religious freedom, circumventing international bodies like the U.N., which often gives countries with appalling human rights violations a seat at the table.

Last year’s ministerial—the first event of its kind—inspired other countries to hold their own religious conferences. Albania, Colombia, and Morocco are planning to hold regional religious freedom conferences soon. This October, the State Department will partner with the Vatican to co-host a summit highlighting “the importance of working with faith-based organizations to support and protect religious freedom.”

The new alliance and these subsequent regional conferences show the long-term impact of the ministerial.

Yet, the U.S. can do more to advance religious freedom across the globe.

The discussions on religious persecution featured at the ministerial must be integral to United States foreign policy and trade negotiations. Rather than an afterthought, a country’s treatment of their religious minorities should be the litmus test for whether the United States continues economic and military ties with them.

News broke last week that the Trump administration imposed economic sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against four high-profile Iraqis guilty of human rights abuses. The Global Magnitsky Act is a great tool the U.S. can use to expose the human rights/religious freedom abuses of individuals—because these sanctions are targeted, they often come without the political and diplomatic risks associated with placing sanctions on an entire country.

The Global Magnitsky Act has already been proven effective. In 2018, the Trump administration relied on Executive Order 13818 (which builds on Global Magnitsky Act authority) to sanction two Turkish officials over the detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson due to his Christian faith. Less than three months later, Pastor Brunson was released. This was an important victory that demonstrated the power of the tools already at our disposal.

Countries care how they are perceived on the world stage. Recent heated responses from world leaders following unfavorable assessments in the State Department’s latest Report on International Religious Freedom demonstrate that much. Events like the ministerial further emphasize the importance of being seen as a country that protects religious freedom on the world stage.

For leaders of countries that live in the shadow of a regional power-house that fails to respect religious freedom such as China, it can take courage to travel to the U.S. to discuss religious liberty. In his address at the ministerial, Pompeo noted this, saying, “If you’re here today and you’re a country which has defied the Chinese pressure to come here, we salute you and we thank you. And if you have declined to attend for the same reason, we took note.” This type of pressure from U.S. leaders can be impactful in diplomacy, and the U.S. should make these public statements more often

Overall, the ministerial highlights several ways in which the United States and the international community can forward the cause of religious freedom. The ministerial was a great start, but it should only be the beginning.  

Arielle Del Turco is the Research Assistant for Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty. Luke Isbell is an intern at FRC.

LISTEN: Mike Pompeo on the Fight for International Religious Freedom

by Family Research Council

July 15, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled the Commission on Unalienable Rights last week to address basic human rights violations across the world. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins recently sat down with Pompeo to discuss how the Commission could impact religious freedom. Pompeo said progress has been made but there are still violations occurring around the world that are “unacceptable” (starts at 9:15).

Secretary Pompeo also previewed the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom which the State Department is hosting in Washington on July 16-18. Click here for more information on the ministerial.

Here is the full conversation between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and FRC President Tony Perkins.

 

World Leaders Shamelessly Deny Religious Freedom Violations in Their Countries

by Arielle Del Turco , Luke Isbell

July 12, 2019

When the State Department released its annual Report on International Religious Freedom in June detailing the status of religious freedom in countries around the world, it drew blowback from world leaders whose countries failed to receive a positive report. 

Officials from India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were especially quick to criticize the State Department’s assessment of their country.

The report outlines several instances where violence has occurred against religious minorities and how Indian law enforcement has been implicated in many of the crimes.

Violence against Christians and Muslims is an ongoing problem in India—and Indian law enforcement has been reluctant to protect these religious minority communities. What’s worse is that law enforcement has often been implicated in many of the crimes committed against religious minorities. Over the past several years, it has become increasingly common for members of Hindu nationalist groups to attack Christian leaders and their ministries following false accusations that Christians are practicing forced conversions. There’s clearly religious freedom violations occurring in India, and the State Department report offers substantial evidence to confirm that.

In response to the State Department’s report, Anil Baluni, the National Media head for the BJP, defended Indian president Narendra Modi in an official statement. “The basic presumption in this report that there is some grand design behind anti-minority violence is simply false,” he stated. “Whenever needed, Mr. Modi and other BJP leaders have deplored violence against minorities and weaker sections.”

In another response to the report, a government spokesperson tersely retorted that, “India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion.”

The State Department report is not the only announcement that has put oppressive countries on the defensive. Popular news outlets are also calling out countries on the abuses levied at their people.

Recently, Pakistani leaders issued a defense of Pakistan’s treatment of religious minorities. During a recent trip to Brussels, Pakistani Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi attempted to downplay accusations of ongoing Christian persecution in Pakistan. He argued that Christians are “very welcome,” and stated, “we respect them and want them to be there.”

News reports suggest the environment for Christians in Pakistan is less than welcoming. 

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which prohibit speaking against Islam, are often abused and used to settle unrelated disputes. Pakistani Christians live in fear of being accused of blasphemy, which can be punishable by death.

Last week, Nigerian leaders also claimed that accusations of persecution against Christians in Nigeria was exaggerated. This is an especially bold denial when the situation in Nigeria borders on genocide.

Tens of thousands of Christians have been displaced or killed by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. Boko Haram has killed more people than ISIS, and the Fulani are armed with AK-47s. Despite the horrific violence occurring in Nigeria, when the Northern Christian Elders Forum wrote a letter to the British Parliament about the abuses suffered under the current administration, the Nigerian government was quick to retort that claims of religious persecution in Nigeria were false. Nigerian officials went so far as to trivialize the current violence by calling it a simple case of clashes between farmers and herdsman.  

These incidences of world leaders denying religious freedom violations in their countries is appalling and hard to believe—yet it is actually a good sign. This shows that efforts like the State Department’s annual Report on International Religious Freedom (which calls out countries on their religious freedom violations), the upcoming Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (which highlights the diplomatic importance of honoring religious liberty), and even reports by major news outlets are effective. The fact that state leaders don’t want their countries to be seen as countries where religious liberty isn’t protected shows the pressure that the U.S. State Department can put on countries to improve the status of religious freedom in their countries.

World leaders can deny the truth all they want, but religious freedom is only gaining ground as an issue of focus on the world stage. Soon, leaders will have to do more than deny the ongoing persecution in their countries. If regimes want to gain international legitimacy and improve their reputation, they must become known as governments which respect the freedom of their people to adhere to their conscience and protect religious minorities from harassment and violence due to their faith.

Arielle Del Turco is the Research Assistant for FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty. Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

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