A new report on the oppression of religious freedoms around the world and U.S. policy to address threats to this basic human right was the focus of a congressional hearing held Thursday by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees international human rights.
"Congress gave expression to our commitment to international religious freedom with the passage in 1998 of the International Religious Freedom Act, which concretely established the promotion and protection of religious liberties as a foreign policy goal," said Smith, who recalled that the State Department notified Congress in September that eight countries--Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan--had been redesignated as "Countries of Particular Concern" due to abuse of religious minorities. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which authors the annual report, recommended Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam be added to that list. "The International Religious Freedom Act was an important addition to the overall effort to defend and promote human rights, by focusing the spotlight on one of the most fundamental human rights." To read the chairman's opening statement, click here. To watch a video of Chairman Smith remarks, click here.
The hearing centered on the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report and featured testimony on the global challenges to freedom of religion before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights. Leonard Leo, Chairman of USCIRF, testified that serious deterioration of religious freedoms has occurred. He acknowledged the crucial importance of the hearing.
"Today, religious freedom is a key issue in countries that top the U.S. foreign policy agenda," Leo said. "From Egypt to China, Iraq to Sudan, Nigeria to Vietnam, and Russia to Turkey, promoting and protecting this fundamental right has never been more challenging."
The Most Rev. Ricardo Ramirez, Bishop of the Diocese of Las Cruces and former USCIRF Commissioner, called on Congress to reauthorize the IRFA, which expires today, Nov. 18.
"The Congress and the Administration need to place a higher priority on religious freedom and the role that it plays in foreign policy," the Bishop told the congressional panel. "Given the growing influence of religion and religious actors in many countries, the U.S. government should be urging other governments to better protect the human rights, including the religious freedom, of all their people, including Christians and other vulnerable minorities.
Ramirez told the congressional panel there was "too little public evidence" that religious liberties are factored into U.S. foreign policy decisions.
"The issue may have been raised in private, but there needs to be a more overt recognition of the importance that the U.S. places on protection of religious freedom," the Bishop said. "Otherwise, it may appear that our nation is going through the motions of satisfying a Congressional mandate, but not following up by making religious freedom an integral part of the foreign policy decision-making process." Click here to read testimony of Bishop Ramirez.
Also testifying were (click on their name to read their testimony):
· Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader, Christian Solidarity Worldwide;
· the Rev. Majed El Shafie; President and Founder, One Free World International, and;
· R. Drew Smith, Ph.D., Scholar-in-Residence, Leadership Center at Morehouse College.
The hearing was webcast and is available for viewing, however, due to a delayed start of the hearing viewers should advance to the 17:50 minute mark of the video.