Tag archives: International Religious Liberty

Death Comes to Northeast Syria: The Human Cost of Trump’s Withdrawal of Forces

by Travis Weber , Arielle Del Turco

October 9, 2019

Smoke is billowing from a small town in northeast Syria hit by Turkish airstrikes today, and hundreds of civilians are fleeing, unsure of where they’re headed.

The worst fears of those living under the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria are becoming a reality after President Trump made the decision on Sunday to remove U.S. troops from the area. This decision followed a phone call with Turkish President Erdogan and paved the way for an unfolding Turkish military operation into Northeast Syria, which is controlled by the Kurds, who have been faithful U.S. allies.

Why is FRC, focused on our mission to advance faith, family, and freedom, weighing in on this situation far from home?

Because at risk is not just the massacre of our Kurdish allies, the potential resurgence of ISIS, the reputation of the United States, and another major conflict in the Middle East. Also at risk is the destruction of the one place in the Middle East (outside of Israel) where Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis live in peace and religious freedom thrives. Under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, religious minorities in Northeast Syria found protection and equal political rights—an anomaly in the Middle East.

Out of the midst of the Syrian civil war, hope sprang in the form of a federal government system that represents and protects segments of society which are often neglected and abused in the Middle East, including women and the Christian minority.

In addition to other religious minorities, Syriac Christians have found safety under the Kurdish-led administration. This is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, and they are trying to maintain a presence in the Middle East, the birthplace of the Christian faith. Syriac Christians still speak a dialect of Aramaic today, and Syriac Christian culture is experiencing a renaissance. As Turkish forces move into Northeast Syria, we shouldn’t expect that they will take care of this community. Even in the past few years, Turkey has allied itself with jihadist groups responsible for killing Christians elsewhere in Syria. With the present Turkish incursion, Christians in Northeast Syria face the potential of attack or displacement. It would be tragic to these Christians subjected to abuse or death as a result of Turkish actions, and it would also be tragic to see the loss of a historic Christian presence in this region.

The Kurdish forces that Turkey is attacking have been reliable allies to the Untied States. When the U.S. couldn’t find anyone else willing to fight ISIS, the SDF rose to the occasion, and lost approximately 11,000 fighters in the process. The Kurds feel betrayed by the U.S., and that feeling is understandable. They have been consistent allies, and we abandoned them overnight without warning. This won’t bode well for the next time the U.S. tries to recruit allies in the Middle East.

The successful religious freedom and pluralism found in Northeast Syria is something that we hope to see more of across the Middle East. To watch that newly-flourishing area ransacked by a Turkish authoritarian leader is disheartening. If the United States wants to see the prime example of religious freedom in the Middle East continue, it should continue to support our Kurdish allies.

It is difficult to watch these events unfold today. There have already been reports of civilian casualties, including Christians who were killed by the Turkish strikes.

As this situation develops, we need to be praying for the protection of the people of Northeast Syria, and that any attempted oppression or slaughter would be thwarted. We must also pray that God would give President Trump the wisdom to make the right decisions, and that he would ensure security for Syria’s Northeast.

Senate Condemns China’s Abuses Against Religious Minorities

by Arielle Del Turco

September 13, 2019

The Chinese regime’s gross human rights violations against Uyghurs were recognized by the U.S. Senate late Wednesday night with the passage of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. The measure couldn’t come at a more critical time as the Uyghur crisis continues to deteriorate. In what one U.S. official has called China’s “war on faith,” the Chinese government is responsible for a brutal crackdown on Uyghurs, a Turkic, mostly Muslim ethnic group.

China has used a variety of measures to suppress the Uyghur community. The government monitors social media, and arrests Uyghurs for information found on their phones, including simply having religious content on them. It is estimated that China has forcibly detained at least 880,000 and possibly more than 2 million Uyghurs who are detained in what China calls “re-education” camps. Uyghurs at these camps are indoctrinated with Chinese Communist Party propaganda designed to pressure them to abandon their Muslim faith and their unique culture. Some detainees who have been released describe their experience being tortured in the camps.

This bill is the first piece of legislation from any nation that specifically responds to the Uyghur crisis. The provisions of this act will require U.S. federal agencies and foreign policy institutions to report on the Uyghur crisis, and how it impacts U.S. citizens and national security. Formal and routine U.S. recognition of the horrors of China’s treatment of Uyghurs will send a powerful message to Beijing—that the U.S. will not ignore the atrocities taking place in the Uyghur region, and that we will continue to highlight Chinese human rights violations on the world stage.

The Chinese government is already getting the message. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson responded yesterday to this bill passing in the Senate. Spokesperson Hua Chunying expressed China’s opposition to the passage of this bill and to U.S. criticisms of China’s Xinjiang policies. Though she accused the U.S. of misrepresenting the human rights situation in China, we know that Chinese leaders have a long track record of lying about their actions in the Uyghur region. Regardless of the spin from Chinese officials, their hostile response indicates that they have already felt pressure from this bill, which means it has done exactly what it was meant to do.

While the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act has passed the Senate, its companion bill in the House of Representatives is still in committee. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) demonstrated great leadership in getting this bill passed in the Senate. In the House, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) is leading the charge on this bill. As we commend the Senate’s action on this issue, the House should take note and work to swiftly pass the House version of this bill. It is vital that Congress take this step to hold China accountable for their egregious human rights abuses.

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.

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.

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.

Administration Must Avoid Obama Cultural Imperialism

by Peter Sprigg

July 29, 2019

The Obama administration was guilty of what some have called “cultural imperialism.” This included various efforts to force small, poor—and often socially conservative—countries to accept and codify the values of the West’s sexual revolution. Examples include pressure placed on the Dominican Republic to liberalize abortion laws (in violation of their own constitution), and the withholding of foreign aid from the desperately poor African country of Malawi in an effort to force liberalization of their laws on homosexual conduct.

Family Research Council spoke out against such policies at the time. Fortunately, the Trump administration has backed off from some of the worst of this cultural imperialism, such as that practiced at the United Nations. However, we are concerned that the administration’s “global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality”—endorsed in a tweet from the White House Twitter account on July 26—may represent a remnant of that same mentality.

There are some legitimate concerns about the treatment of people who self-identify as homosexual in some other countries. As we wrote when news of the “global campaign” was first reported in February:

Family Research Council vigorously opposes acts of violence against anyone because of their sexuality. According to NBC, there are eight countries which permit the death penalty for homosexuality—most of them also known as abusers of religious freedom and other rights, and supporters of terrorism. An end to those laws, and other physical punishments such as flogging, is a legitimate goal.

(In the past, there have been false reports that FRC supported a bill in Uganda that would have allowed the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. This has never been the case.) There may also be countries where governments turn a blind eye to extra-judicial violence against those who identify as homosexual. This, too, is unacceptable.

We endorsed the statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his confirmation hearing, when he said, ““I deeply believe LGBTQ persons have every right that every other person has.”

However, the fact that LGBTQ-identified persons have every human right does not mean that engaging in homosexual conduct is itself a human right. As we stated in 2011, “No treaty or widely accepted international agreement has established homosexual conduct as a human right.” For example, homosexual conduct has known health risks, so foreign governments should be left free to take steps to discourage or deter such conduct.

Furthermore, any effort to force an “LGBT rights” agenda on other countries risks running afoul of other principles which actually have been well-established as international rights—namely, the rights of individual conscience and of religious liberty. Within the constraints imposed by well-established international law, all countries must be free to establish governments and legal codes based on their own moral values. These are often deeply rooted in religious tradition. What we have called “cultural imperialism” (which Pope Francis has called “ideological colonization”) must not be allowed to trump that sovereign right of each country.

As we wrote in February:

Let’s find common ground in calling for an end to all forms of physical violence against homosexuals — but refrain from imposing the values of the sexual revolution on the rest of the world.

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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