The National Catholic Review

The State Department issued its annual report on religious freedom on July 30. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a “sobering” global depiction of fundamental human right at risk. “More than a billion people live under governments that systematically suppress religious freedom,” she said. “New technologies have given repressive governments additional tools for cracking down on religious expression. Members of faith communities that have long been under pressure report that the pressure is rising. Even some countries that are making progress on expanding political freedom are frozen in place when it comes to religious freedom.”

She added, “When it comes to this human right, this key feature of stable, secure, peaceful societies, the world is sliding backwards.” But the report also found some reason for hope in the near future regarding the expansion of religious freedom, including in some perhaps unexpected places like Myanmar and Egypt. “Several countries with diverse faith communities are now in the process of navigating transitions toward democracy,” Secretary Clinton said. “They are wrestling with questions of whether and how to protect religious freedom for their citizens. This goes from Tunisia to Burma and many places in between.”

Secretary Clinton said that during a recent visit to Egypt she had a “very emotional, very personal conversation” with Christians who are deeply anxious about what the future holds. “What Egypt and other countries decide,” she said, “will have a major impact on the lives of their people and will go a long way toward determining whether these countries are able to achieve true democracy.”

She said, “I personally feel very strongly about this, because I have seen firsthand how religious freedom is both an essential element of human dignity and of secure, thriving societies. It’s been statistically linked with economic development and democratic stability. And it creates a climate in which people from different religions can move beyond distrust and work together to solve their shared problems."

According to the report, the interim government of Egypt began to take measures toward greater religious inclusiveness, passing an anti-discrimination law, arresting and prosecuting alleged instigators of sectarian rioting and allowing dozens of churches previously closed to reopen. “Nevertheless,” it added, “sectarian tensions and violence increased during the year, along with an overall increase in violence and criminality.”

The report documented the Egyptian government’s failure to curb rising violence against Coptic Christians and its involvement in violent attacks, including an attack by Egyptian security forces on October 9, 2011, against demonstrators in front of the Egyptian radio and television building in Cairo that left 25 dead and 350 injured, “most of whom were Coptic Christians.” The report notes that no government officials have been held accountable for such abuses so far, and “there were indications in early 2012 of mounting Coptic emigration.”

In Myanmar, according to the report, the government took steps toward overcoming a "longstanding legacy of intense religious oppression," eased some restrictions on church construction and "generally permitted adherents of religious groups registered with the government to worship as they chose."

China was again included on the list of nations of “particular concern.” According to the report, China experienced a “marked deterioration” of religious freedom in 2011, including further religious repression in the “Tibetan Autonomous Region” and deeper restrictions on religious practice via the state’s various “patriotic” official religious entities. According to the report: “Official interference in the practice of Tibetan Buddhist religious traditions generated profound grievances and contributed to a series of self-immolations by Tibetans.”

The Chinese government issued a scathing response through its Xinhua news agency today, calling the release of the annual report “a notorious practice of blatantly interfering in the internal affairs of other countries … in the name of religion.” Beijing dismissed the report as “nothing but a political tool used by the U.S. government to exert pressure” on its rivals and called it unimaginative, counterproductive and “full of prejudice, arrogance and ignorance.”

The reported noted continuing repression of Muslims in China as well as continuing friction with Catholics loyal to the Vatican. But the report did find some positive developments in 2011, including the appointment of three Vatican-approved bishops. It noted that the Sichuan provincial government had encouraged the Catholic church to assist in providing social services, “particularly in areas that had suffered from the 2008 earthquake.” Sichuan church contacts also reported developing closer ties with congregations in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States and South Korea and that they had been able to use contributions from these countries to finance local development projects, “including church construction.” The report also noted that while Communist Party members are required to be atheists and “generally are discouraged from participating in religious activities,” in Guangdong Province their attendance at official church services was reportedly growing, “as authorities increasingly chose to turn a blind eye to their attendance.”

Other states designated as “countries of particular concern” for alleged violations of religious freedom included three other Asian nations—Myanmar (Burma), North Korea and Uzbekistan—and Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Other countries with notable religious conflicts included Pakistan and Nigeria, but European nations also came under scrutiny in the report.

According to the report, rapid demographic changes in Europe have been accompanied by "growing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment and intolerance toward people considered 'the other.'" The report documents a rising number of European countries, including Belgium and France, whose laws restricting dress adversely affected Muslims and others. It noted that Hungary’s parliament passed a law that regulates registration of religious organizations and requires a political vote in parliament to secure recognition. The law went into effect on January 1, 2012, reducing the number of recognized religious groups from over 300 to fewer than 32.

Comments

Tim O'Leary | 8/3/2012 - 1:50am
Jim #9
I like your quote in your second paragraph about the risk to freedom and I agree with it. But, since we live in a country where the current regime is the one forcing the mandate (through a regulatory fiat - the contraceptive mandate wasn't in the original Obamacare), wouldn't your first sentence apply to those who are supporting the regime and those who are the obstacle to freedom - those with the desire to obey the government?

It is the government that has the coercive power. The Church has nothing but its persuasive power. At the top, it is mostly rather mild-mannered yet courageous elderly men who are trying to resist the coercive powerof the state for the sake of us all, not just Catholics. Some Protestants and Jews already see this, although the many seem to want to go along and get more free stuff from the increasingly paternalistic government.
Tim O'Leary | 8/2/2012 - 1:41am
I agree that the suffering and martyrdom abroad is much greater than what, mercifully, we have had to face here yet. However, the insidious nature of the threat in the USA, the nation with the strongest ''free exercise'' protection on the books, could have major implications for the world. If we lose this fight in America, then the oppressors will be enboldened and push for more here at home (like shutting down businesses or withholding permits, driving committed Christians from certain businesses, etc).

Yesterday marked the beginning of the HHS contraceptive mandate for most organizations.
We can win this fight, if we stick together. There are many other ways for the government to satisfy its contraceptive ideology without drafting Catholics into their ideology. Here is an update on the Colorado case.
http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/ruling-strikes-body-blow-to-obamacare/
David Smith | 8/1/2012 - 10:51pm
Apples and oranges, perhaps, but both fruits.  One is systematic, deliberate, physically violent; the other is sporadic, sometimes unintentional, and almost never openly violent.  But they are both threats to religious freedom.  In a sense, the second is more powerful, because there's little opposition to it and it's unlikely to diminish or go away, whereas the first will eventually disappear, due to constant pressure from outside - notably from governments like that of the US, which apparently sees a call for religious freedom as a proxy for a call for making the offending governments more compatible with itself.
David Smith | 7/31/2012 - 10:17pm
I imagine government reports on things like religious, political, and economic freedom are bound to be controversial, because necessarily culturally provincial and politically motivated.  Are there regular reports on religious freedom by non-governmental organizations?


“Several countries with diverse faith communities are now in the process of navigating transitions toward democracy,” Secretary Clinton said. “They are wrestling with questions of whether and how to protect religious freedom for their citizens. This goes from Tunisia to Burma and many places in between.”
Secretary Clinton said that during a recent visit to Egypt she had a “very emotional, very personal conversation” with Christians who are deeply anxious about what the future holds. “What Egypt and other countries decide,” she said, “will have a major impact on the lives of their people and will go a long way toward determining whether these countries are able to achieve true democracy.”
She said, “I personally feel very strongly about this, because I have seen firsthand how religious freedom is both an essential element of human dignity and of secure, thriving societies. It’s been statistically linked with economic development and democratic stability. And it creates a climate in which people from different religions can move beyond distrust and work together to solve their shared problems.''


Hmm.  For one thing, ''democracy'' is a bare-bones idea.  In itself - people being in charge of their own governance - it can take a large multitude of forms.  The Soviet Union was a democracy.

Ditto ''freedom'' - another word that's practically meaningless in itself. 

Good to know that the secretary of state thinks religion is politically useful.
Tom Maher | 8/1/2012 - 1:29pm
Kevin Clarke # 4

America magazine for weeks feature the editorial "Policy, Not Liberty" which denied that the Church had a "Religious Liberty" problem with the HHS mandate.  Very conspicuouly America has taken issue with the American bishops on the theme of "Religous Liberty" as it the Bishops did not have substainital basis for setting up a Ad hoc committee for Religous Liberty as they did last year even before the HHS "acommodation " was rejected by the Bishops.  Many America magazine articles including your own elaborately advocated that the Bishops accept the Obama administration's accomodation to the HHS mandate. The American Bishops and now most Catholic organizations are united in their opposition to the HHS mandate "accomodation" on Religious Liberty grounds.  The "attention " America magazine gave was to accept the accomodation and thereby deny the Religious Liberty problem with the federal governemnt is defining what is a Religous insistuiton where even Catholic schools and hospitals are to be considered just another employer that can be direct by law to act against their moral teachings. 

The issue is not "attention" but consistant denial in America magazine that we have a serious and significant "Religious Liberty" problem right here in the Unnited States as the American bishops have indicated which is as serious as this "Religious Liberty" issue worldwide.

Excuse me but I find that American magazine recognition and reporting on the Religious Liberty issues to be very poor and one-sided.
JIM MCCREA | 8/2/2012 - 4:35pm
Without the freedom to criticize, no praise has any value. (Figaro)


Someone has said that the greatest obstacle to freedom is not the will of an individual or minority to dominate, but the desire of the many to obey. People do not want freedom, because passive obedience relieves them of responsibility, both for the commonweal and for their own actions. (Charles Davis on why it was not enough to ignore the church, NCR, February 7, 1992.)

 “Catholics, remember that if you desire freedom for yourselves, you must desire it for mankind. If you desire it only for yourselves it will never be granted to you: give it where you are masters so that you will be given it where you are slaves."   (French Dominican priest Jean Baptiste Lacordaire ["To live in the midst of the world without desiring its pleasures . . ."], and cited with approval by Mark Hurley, peritus at Vatican II and late bishop of Santa Rosa in California, in his book "The Unholy Ghost.")
Tom Maher | 8/1/2012 - 11:51am
Continuation

Across western nation secular politcal values are being writeen into law expressly restricting or intruding on the freedoms of Religious insitutions to express their own Religous message and be free to define and practice their own religous beliefs, free of the state interference of the state. 

But nowadays the state knows better.  So we have HHS mandate like siduations all across western nations where the secular state imposes moral values by law in disregard of reliigion. 

Here is an example from the State department report on Norway fron the year before:


In April 2010 parliament amended the Worker Protection and Working Environment Act (WPWEA) and the Gender Equality Act to remove exemptions for discrimination on religious grounds. The amendments removed religious organizations' explicit right to inquire about an applicant's sexual orientation or discriminate on the basis of gender, unless the differential treatment is shown to have a legitimate purpose. Until April 2010 the WPWEA permitted employers to ask job applicants applying for positions in religious or other private schools, or day care centers, whether they would agree to teach and behave in accordance with the institution's or religion's beliefs and principles.

This is the same issues as the 2012 Hosanna Tabor U.S. Supreme Court case where the court rejected the Obama admistration claim that there was no religious exemption   from federal anti-discrimination laws.  The attempt was made by the federal government to mandate all Religions to be accountable under federal anti-discriminations laws on the hiring and firing of all of its "ministers".   The court rule Freedom of Riligion does not allow the government ot interfere with the selection or removal of "ministers" of a religion.  But the attempt was made by the Obama adminsitration to subordinate Religion to secular values in federal law.
Tom Maher | 8/1/2012 - 11:15am
How ironic that America magazine would cover the issuance of a State department annual report on the international status of Religious Freedom while being so conflicted in reporting on Religious Freedom issues here in the United States.  Could it be that the State Department like the American bishops are over reacting to violations of Religious Freedom?  Or maybe the State Department is using the issue of violations of Religious Freedoms as as diversion from more important issues as some of America magazine editorials,  writtings and comments do all the time ? 

It is so much easier for America magazine to report on foriegn nations violations of Religious Liberties in nations like  Iran or Cuba who steriotypically act as bad guys on religiious liberty than to deal with the violations of Religous Liberties right here in the United States.

However buried deep within these State department reports are the actions of liberal western nations such as Norway that are violating Religious Liberty in the same way as  in the United Statess for exactly the same same reasons: .  Western secular values are being imposed on Religions.  Across western antions secular politcal values ??are intruding on ?Relig?ion?.?
?
??