State Dept. Failing Religious Minorities Abroad, Experts Say

WASHINGTON – A panel of experts at an event sponsored by the Family Research Council Wednesday argued that the State Department has been failing to advance religious freedom abroad.

Five speakers – Elyse Anderson, Ann Buwalda, Dr. Thomas Farr, Emmanuel Ogebe, and Tina Ramirez – addressed the issue of international religious freedom at the event, titled “International Religious Persecution: Why U.S. Policy Matters More Than Ever."

Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, reasoned that there is a connection between religious intolerance and religious terrorism; if religious freedom is advanced, it will help decrease global terrorism.

"We have to make the case, especially to the State Department," said Farr, "that if we don't get religious freedom right in these countries they will fail."

Ogebe, a Nigerian attorney and human rights activist, argued that the State Department "is in never-never land" and used examples from his home country.

According to Ogebe, the State Department was not addressing properly the persecution of Christians in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim North.

The speakers discussed The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life study released earlier this year that surveyed the level of government restrictions and social hostilities globally to religious practice from 2006 to 2009.

According to the Pew study, 32 percent of the world's population experienced either increasing government restrictions on religious practice or rising social hostilities toward religious practice during the three years studied.

The panel of religious freedom experts also discussed how things have changed since 1998, when the International Religious Freedom Act, which created an ambassador-at-large position for international religious freedom within the State Department, was passed by Congress.

"We all have to take a step back and ask what difference have we made," said Tina Ramirez, director of International and Government Relations for the Becket Fund, who had worked on Capitol Hill on issues related to religious freedom.

"I think at this point the situation has grown so much worse that we really haven't been on the right track."

Ann Buwalda, executive director of the Jubilee Campaign, remarked, "The need for the United States to engage countries to protect religious freedom is more urgent today than ever before.”

Buwalda mentioned various examples of growing religious intolerance recently, including attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt, blasphemy laws in Pakistan, and religious minorities fleeing Iraq.

The Family Research Council is a Washington-based public policy nonprofit organization that seeks to advance Judeo-Christian values, family and freedom in public policy and public opinion. The group regularly hosts experts to discuss relevant current issues of concern.

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