WASHINGTON – Experts say growing impunity for perpetrators of religious persecution threatens to undo global security.
In a Wednesday panel discussion titled, “Minority Religious Communities at Risk,” a congressmen, former U.S. ambassadors, and human rights experts discussed how religious minorities worldwide as well as the societies they live in are unstable because national governments fail to punish perpetrators of violent sectarian attacks.
They also criticized the U.S. for its complacency in dealing with religious persecution, and blamed political correctness for binding the hands of the Obama administration.
Dr. Thomas Farr, a former U.S. ambassador and the chair of the International Religious Freedom task force at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., makes the case that America has a vested interest in global religious liberty for the sake of its own national security.
He notes, however, "The United States have done a very poor job in addressing this issue for a long time."
Farr mentioned that while other administrations have faltered on this issue, the Obama administration has done worse than its predecessors.
"It has failed," Farr stated bluntly.
Noting the two year delay to fill the position of U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, he said, "Well over half the administration is gone and Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook steps into her job the week before last.”
Cook, founder of the Wisdom Worldwide Center and former senior pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, was nominated to the ambassadorship in February, confirmed April 14 and sworn in June 2.
"That is a disgrace," he thundered.
He blames, in part, the U.S.'s own struggle to discover the difference between embracing religious freedom and endorsing religion. He says this struggle is very evident in the administration's push to recognize gay marriage.
The issue has sparked religious outrage. The administration's response, dropping legal defense for the Defense of Marriage Act, downplayed the role of religious beliefs in the nation's decision-making.
Farr guesses, "That's one of the reasons it doesn't want to talk so much about religious freedom because it sees it as a potential competitor to [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights."
The administration, however, must do what is in the best interests for this country and that is to advance the work of international freedom, he said.
The discussion, held in Washington, D.C., was hosted by The Federalist Society's Religious Liberties Practice Group and The First Freedom Center.
During the discussion, panelists discussed the findings of First Freedom Center's report “Minority Religious Communities at Risk.” The report finds that there are increasingly widespread occurrences of impunity for religious militants that attack religious minority groups around the world.
On the subject of impunity, Freedom First Center President Randolph Bell reflected, "The past year has been a depressing one."
He praised Nigeria for convicting five people in connection to Muslim-Christian violence in and around the city of Jos last year, but noted, "They were, however, practically the only persons prosecuted in any way in the wake of massive violence. Since 1998, religion-related violence has caused some 13,000 deaths in Nigeria and countless displacement."
The country's religious violence has continued.
Just this month, Pentecostal Pastor David Usman, his church secretary Hamman Andrew, and at least ten other people were gunned down, allegedly perpetrated by members of Islamic militant group Boko Haram. Blast attacks have also shattered a Catholic church and police stations where some officials are trying to bring militants to justice.
"Little or no investigation of this or other violence has occurred in Nigeria as in India and elsewhere," remarked Bell.
In Pakistan, he says, unchecked sectarian attacks have given rise to an increasingly hostile climate for all religious minorities and even opposing government officials.
"The violence has permeated formally relatively secure urban centers and there have been no meaningful investigations or prosecutions including the cases of Minister Bhatti or of Punjabi governor Taseer," detailed Bell.
Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer were both assassinated earlier this year for their efforts to change blasphemy laws which are being misused to jail and execute Christians and other offending parties.
Bell concluded that these attacks of religious minorities and their advocates must be taken as a serious threat to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights laws established in 1948 by the United Nations. That declaration guarantees global rights to freedom of religion, religious expression and conscious.
"Treatment of religious minorities is of critical importance obviously to them, but also to their societies and, I would argue, to the national security of the United States," Farr observed.
However, he notes the United States' primary response to international infringements on religious freedom is to publicly denounce such actions in speech and in reports.
The U.S. annual report on international religious freedom is the best in the world, he says, but laments, "That's been our policy, rhetorical condemnation."
He advocates programs that would create individualized plans for each nation and fund allied local organizations to raising the message of religious tolerance to a broader audience.
He also supports the passage of Virginia Rep. Frank R. Wolf's amendment to give the IRF ambassador-at-large direct contact with the Secretary of State and greater access to the president's foreign policy decision-making process.