Because Americans cherish religious freedom and believe it to be a universal human right, each year the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issues a report that describes how religious liberty is being protected or abused in countries around the world.
This week it released its 2012 annual report, and it's to no one's surprise the countries it named as the most egregious offenders are the usual suspects: Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
The USCIRF press release accompanying the report quoted its chairman, Leonard Leo, this way:
“It’s no coincidence that many of the nations we recommend to be designated as CPCs (Countries of Particular Concern) are among the most dangerous and destabilizing places on earth. Nations that trample upon basic rights, including freedom of religion, provide fertile ground for poverty and insecurity, war and terror, and violent, radical movements and activities.”
Exactly right. In fact, the introduction to the report makes this stark observation:
"Over the past year, while economic woes captured world headlines, an ongoing crisis of equal breadth and scope frequently went unnoticed. Across the global landscape, the pivotal human right of religious freedom was under escalating attack. To an alarming extent, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief was being curtailed, often threatening the safety and survival of innocent persons, including members of religious minorities."
The problem since creation of the USCIRF has been that despite its good work, various presidential administrations (Clinton, Bush, Obama) haven't done enough to work toward improving the situation around the globe in light of the annual reports. Look, for instance, at the current list of "Countries of Particular Concern," as the agency calls them, and you'll find, among others, our good friends the Saudi Arabians.
The charge has been made from time to time that we pull our punches with some countries because of our dependence on their oil. And a case can be made for that.
Still, it's also up to the American people -- not just our government -- to keep the issue of religious freedom on a front burner. If we're not raising hell about abuses everywhere -- including here in the U.S. -- we are falling down on the job.
So please read the new USCIRF report and in whatever way you can, do lend your voice to the voices decrying lack of religious liberty in many places around the world. Religious freedom, after all, is not just an American value, it's a foundational human right.
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WHO BOUGHT THIS BESIDES THE MEDIA?
It turns out that a guy who claimed he would arrange for atheists to rescue Christians' pets left behind in the Rapture admits now that it was all a hoax. Boy, that was a hard one to see through. As for the alleged Rapture itself, the book to read is The Rapture Exposed, by Barbara Rossing.
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P.S.: One of my very favorite New Testament scholars, Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt, will give a free lecture April 24 at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. Don't miss her if you're here. And take good notes for me because I'll be in Israel when she's here.