Persecution Watchdog: Where Do Candidates Stand on Religious Freedom?

As perceived attacks on religious freedom in the U.S. and the very real persecution of believers in the rest of the world have taken center stage recently, it's more important than ever to know where the nation's presidential candidates stand on basic human rights, said the president of Open Doors USA.

Carl A. Moeller, whose organization provides support to persecuted Christians in 60 countries, told The Christian Post that while most people would assume that religious liberty is a basic right that presidential hopefuls could easily get behind, a Presidential Pledge for Religious Freedom he co-authored has been signed by only one candidate, Rick Santorum.

Although Santorum signed the petition in early February, Moeller made it clear that Open Doors does not endorse any particular candidate and the pledge is meant as a way for voters to know where the candidates stand.

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"The pledge is to help encourage people to make informed choices based on the candidates' responses to that position. It's a way to show how candidates stack up on the question," he explained. "What we would normally consider to be an assumed right and universally accepted thing has become a more or less sort of curiosity that only one candidate has signed on it."

A lot of the recent attention on religious freedom from the international front can be attributed to the case of Iranian Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been awaiting a final decision on his death sentence for his faith. The U.S. Congress unanimously approved a new resolution recently condemning the Iranian government for sentencing to death Nadarkani, who has been charged with apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims.

Here in the U.S., Christian leaders say that religious freedom is threatened by Obama's health care HHS mandate that requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. Many religious groups are opposed to the mandate on the grounds that it violates their freedom of conscience and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"Religious freedom has received a lot of attention over the last few weeks of the presidential campaign because there are many who perceive that our religious liberties are threatened right here in this country," Moeller said. "The basic idea that government can use economic policy to constrain citizens to do practices that are counter to their religious convictions is really a fundamental challenge to basic American values, and Constitution protected values I might add."

Moeller explained that the HHS mandate issue is no small matter and it has been incorrectly framed.

"It's not the way it's been cast as sort of a far right-wing view of reproductive rights. It's a very mainstream question of how much role does the government have to tell people what they should be able to do as far as their religious freedoms are concerned," he pointed out.

However, Moeller believes that even more striking than the issue of religious freedom nationally is that from a global standpoint it should be even more apparent to the U.S. government that because of the current political climate around the world, people fighting for religious liberty should receive tremendous support.

"We are not standing up for those in other countries that are undergoing revolutions now for their religious freedoms. You would expect and hope that our administration would be at the forefront of that," he said.

The presidential candidate petition was written with the support of about 30 organizations with a very broad spectrum of religious affiliations, he noted.

The pledge, also authored by religion scholar Dr. Thomas Farr, was presented to all presidential candidates and begins: "I PLEDGE that I will protect religious freedom in full for all Americans, and will advance international religious freedom as part of American foreign policy."

The three points to the pledge ask candidates to commit to the First Amendment and its application to believers and nonbelievers; promise to nominate judges to the U.S. federal bench who are committed to protecting the religious rights of all Americans; and make the promotion of religious freedom a foreign policy priority in his or her administration.

"We would really love to see our presidential candidates endorse what we know to be the most basic of American values – freedom to believe or not," Moeller said.

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