Baptist religious freedom commission "concerned about people within" Orthodox Churches
"...It is not the Orthodox churches that we are concerned about, Young
[dean of George Washington Universitys law school] said. What we are
concerned about is people within those traditions, or without those
traditions, who may use those arguments that they derive, correctly or
incorrectly, from a religious basis or any other ideology and use those as
justification for intolerance and repression of others. It is not in any way
unique to the Islamic world.
[complete article below]
Religious freedom commission showing results after five years, members say
By TOM STRODE
Published: June 3, 2004
WASHINGTON (BP)Religious liberty has gained a higher profile in the United
States and other countries during the last five years even as global
persecution persists, members of the U.S. Commission on International
Religious Freedom said in presenting their fifth annual report May 12.
The USCIRF, a bipartisan panel of nine members, reported on its work during
the last year and provided an analysis of the status of religious freedom in
various countries. Members of the commission, which was established by a
1998 law as an independent body to advise the White House and Congress, can
see results from their work, some said at a Washington news conference.
USCIRF commissioner Richard Land said he thinks theres no question that
this issue is far higher on our governments radar screen and the radar
screen of other governments around the world because of the existence of
For one thing, the International Religious Freedom Acts requirement of the
State Department to issue a yearly report on religious freedom has
transformed some of the work of U.S. diplomats, said Land, president of the
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Whats been the result is there has been the development of a significant
cadre of career diplomatic corps officers who have been sensitized and made
aware of this issue and of the abuses that are taking place around the world
in a way that was not prevalent prior to 1998, Land said. [T]hey are
listening to us, and they are listening more as they become more sensitized
to the problem as a result of preparing these reports and having to interact
with the people who have been victimized in the various countries where they
Developments in Sudan as a result of pressure from the United States and the
willingness of President Bush and other officials to raise the issue of
religious freedom on visits to China are examples of such actions, Young
The USCIRF reiterated the countries where persecution of religious adherents
remains severe. It repeated its February recommendation to Secretary of
State Colin Powell that he re-designate Burma, China, Iran, North Korea and
Sudan as countries of particular concern, a label reserved for the worst
violators of religious liberty. The panel reinforced its recommendation of
the addition of Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and
Vietnam to the CPC list. Powell has yet to name this years CPC designees.
The USCIRF did not recommend Iraq return to the CPC list after last years
United States-led effort toppled Saddam Husseins regime.
The commission remains concerned about developments regarding religious
freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a radical Islamic government was
deposed by another effort spearheaded by the United States, it said in its
The Afghan constitution adopted in January has a crucialand potentially
fatalflaw, the panel said in its report. Though the constitution provides
for the freedom of non-Muslim groups to exercise their various faiths, it
does not contain explicit protection for the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion that would extend to every individualparticularly
to individual Muslims in Afghanistan, the overwhelmingly majority of the
This failure, compounded by a clause that says no law can be contrary to
the beliefs and provisions of Islam and a judicial system willing to
enforce a strict view of the religion, is already causing problems,
according to the report.
In Iraq, a hopeful sign for religious liberty occurred in March when freedom
of conscience and religion was embraced in the release of the Transitional
Administrative Law, the commission reported. The panel is concerned about
language in the document that says laws cannot be opposed to the
universally agreed upon tenets of Islam.
Communist and Muslim-controlled governments largely, though not totally,
comprise the worlds most severe violators of religious freedom. Not all
Islamic states are repressive, some commissioners said.
Islam is a many-splintered thing, Land said, quoting an unnamed source.
Some expressions of Islam clearly have a problem with practicing religious
freedom for people who disagree with them, and others dont. You do have
some overwhelmingly majority Islamic countries that are committed to
religious freedom and in some cases have it.
There are a number of countries with majority Islamic populations that have
obviously made efforts in the area of religious freedom, Young said, citing
Morocco, Jordan, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Focusing on Islam alone would be a diversion from something very central,
said Young, dean of George Washington Universitys law school.
The central point is it is not Islam about which this commission is or
should be concerned. It is not Hinduism. It is not the Orthodox churches
that we are concerned about, Young said. What we are concerned about is
people within those traditions, or without those traditions, who may use
those arguments that they derive, correctly or incorrectly, from a religious
basis or any other ideology and use those as justification for intolerance
and repression of others. It is not in any way unique to the Islamic world.
The commission also repeated its watch list of countries that should be
closely monitored, although their religious freedom violations do not reach
the level for recommendation as CPCs. The watch list consists of Belarus,
Cuba, Egypt, Georgia, Indonesia, Laos, Nigeria and Uzbekistan.
The USCIRFs 2004 report may be obtained online at www.uscirf.gov.
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