One of the indications that religion is a powerful force is that governments around the world try to suppress or control it, thus violating a foundational human right, religious liberty.
To keep track of all those violations, each year the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the U.S. State Department issue reports listing the ones they know about. (The most recent State Department report, issued last June, can be found here.)
The USCIRF report covering 2020 was just released a few days ago. Read it and weep.
While taking note of the special circumstance due to the coronavirus pandemic, the commission reported that "in some countries, already marginalized religious minorities faced official and/or societal stigmatization, harassment and discrimination for allegedly causing or spreading the virus."
When suppression of religious freedom gets particularly ugly in a country the commission recommends that the State Department designate it as a "country of particular concern," or CPC. The new report recommends that designation be applied to these countries not currently on the list: India, Russia, Syria and Vietnam. The list already includes Burma, China,
Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Although noting a bit of progress in a few places, the commission report about 2020 is bleak and disheartening. A few examples:
-- Burma (Myanmar): "religious freedom conditions in Burma remained poor. The government continued to commit widespread and egregious religious freedom violations, particularly against Rohingya Muslims."
-- China: "Religious freedom conditions in China deteriorated. The government intensified its 'sinicization of religion' policy, particularly targeting religions perceived to have foreign connections, such as Christianity, Islam and Tibetan Buddhism."
-- India: "Religious freedom conditions in India continued their negative trajectory. The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom."
-- Iran: "Religious freedom conditions in Iran deteriorated, with the government escalating its severe repression of religious
minorities and continuing to export religious extremism and intolerance abroad."
And on and on.
But things will never improve if the world doesn't know of the conditions on the ground. So even if these annual reports are painful to read, they contain information that should make it impossible for our government and all American citizens to be bystanders when it comes to promoting religious freedom.
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AN INTERFAITH EFFORT AGAINST HATRED
Bigotry against religious groups has been a problem almost since religion started. And it's apparently not going away. In just the last few days, as this RNS story reports, four synagogues in one New York City neighborhood have been targets of vandalism. But an interfaith group has formed there to protect houses of worship. As the story says, "clergy from 20 New York congregations, including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Christians, met as the Interfaith Security Council" recently and it is determined to protect sacred spaces of all religious traditions in the area. Good. As one of the pastors involved says, “With a heightened level of white supremacy and a heightened level of hatred we can benefit from the research, information and training that these Jewish organizations have and that can then trickle down to our organizations so we can protect ourselves as well." (And as this opinion piece via NBC news points out, the Covid pandemic hasn't stopped antisemitic acts.)
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P.S.: If you missed my latest Flatland column when it posted Sunday (it's about the slow return of congregation members to sanctuaries), you can find it here.
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ANOTHER P.S.: To watch the online conversation I had yesterday with Mindy Corporon about her new book, Healing a Shattered Soul, go to this YouTube link. A domestic terrorist, a neo-Nazi, murdered Mindy's son and father in 2014, while international terrorists murdered my nephew in 2001 in the 9/11 attacks. I write about that in my own new book, Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. So we had a lot to talk about.