Religious Freedom - Table stakes for 2013

Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

Just a few days ago the U.S. Department of State released their International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 (it apparently takes the US government a bit of time to collate, analyse and comment).  Religious freedom is a basic tenet in this day and age:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

I found the following highlights in the report of interest.

1. Egypt – opened the door of inclusiveness, but sectarian violence continued and emigration of Coptic Christians is mounting

2. Libya – the Supreme Court criminalized insults against Islam.

3. Burma – the government eased restrictions on church construction

4. EU – an uptick in xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment and intolerance toward people considered “the other

5. Bahrain – the Sunni minority dominated government felt the sting of the Shia majority – outcome – 53 religious structures demolished status-quo remains

6. Russia – the “Law on Combating Extremist Activity” is used to disrupt religious organizations particularly followers of Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Falun Gong, and Scientologists.

7. Iraq – Sunni – Shia sectarian violence remains and thus is making it difficult for many to practice religion in a free manner.  The good news, the government is placing security at places of worship.

8.  Nigeria – the Boko Haram sect continues their violent attacks against both Christians and Muslims.

9.  Saudi Arabia – blaspheme the Wahabi interpretation of Sunni Islam – that act is punishable by death.

10. Indonesia – distribute books perceived as “offensive to Islam” and you will be imprisoned, that’s what happened to a Christian; and followers of Ahmadis are finding their religion restricted by law throughout various regions.

11. Venezuela – the official media publishes numerous anti-Semitic statements

12. France – reported desecration of synagogues and cemeteries

13. Hungary – the rise of the Jobbik party, openly anti-Semitic party

This report is worthy of a read.  If you don’t read it all, read the executive summaries for each.

Here is the summary on China:

China*: There was a marked deterioration during 2011 in the government’s respect for and protection of religious freedom in China. In the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas, this included increased restrictions on religious practice, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. Official interference in the practice of these religious traditions exacerbated grievances and contributed to at least 12 self-immolations by Tibetans in 2011. The repression tightened in the lead-up to and during politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events, such as the third anniversary of the protests and riots in Tibetan areas that began on March 10, 2008; the observance of “Serf Emancipation Day” on March 28; the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1; the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6; and the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet on July 19.

China only allows groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) to register with the government and legally hold worship services. Other religious groups, such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with the official patriotic religious association or Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register as legal entities. Proselytizing in public or unregistered places of worship is not permitted. Some religious and spiritual groups are outlawed. Tibetan Buddhists in China are not free to venerate the Dalai Lama and encounter severe government interference in religious practice. The government continued to severely repress Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and other parts of China. Crackdowns on Christian house churches, such as the Shouwang church in Beijing, continued. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members are required to be atheists and are generally discouraged from participating in religious activities.

In 2013, we really should be advancing to a secular and religiously diverse world and allow people to espouse their belief’s in a non-violent manner.  It is one of the reasons I dedicated my many years to government service, to protect the freedom I have enjoyed all of my life, the freedom of religion.