May 6, 1536: Henry VIII, King of England, orders a Bible in English be placed in every church in England. Readers were provided for the illiterate so they could hear the Scriptures read to them in English. The decree’s purpose was to enable the English to read from the Bible that the Pope was not the head of the church but the English monarch was.
Religious Freedom Abroad: The USCIRF 2013 Annual Report
– Derek H. Davis, J.D., Ph.D.
On April 30, 2013, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) in 1998 to monitor religious freedom abroad, released its 2013 Annual Report. The Report comments on the status of religious freedom globally and identifies those nations with the worst record of religious freedom abuses.
The Report recommends that the U.S. Secretary of State re-designate eight nations as “countries of particular concern” or CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. USCIRF finds that seven other countries meet the CPC threshold and should be so designated: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
According to Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF’s Chair, “The Annual Report ultimately is about people and how their governments treat them. Violations affect members of diverse religious communities around the world, be they Rohinghya Muslims in Burma, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Falun Gong in China, Baha’is in Iran, Ahmadis and Christians in Pakistan, or Muslims in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan and in non-Muslim nations like Russia. We recommend that the White House adopt a whole-of-government strategy to guide U.S. religious freedom promotion and that Secretary of State Kerry promptly designate CPCs, before currently designated actions expire later this year.”
Many of the CPCs demonstrate a poor record of protecting religious minorities, especially strands of Christians and Muslims. In Egypt, for example, now undergoing a sometimes violent political transition, the government has failed or been slow to protect Coptic Christians for violent attacks. Both Muslims and Christians are frequently targeted in Burma, China, Iran, Sudan, Iraq, and Pakistan. In Nigeria, Christian and Muslim factions in the government continue to fight each other and regularly carry out pogroms against each other.
“Many of these countries top the U.S. foreign policy agenda, and religion is a core component in their makeup. Successful U.S. foreign policy recognizes the critical role religious freedom plays in each of these nations and prioritizes accordingly. Religious freedom is both a pivotal human right under international law and a key factor that helps determine whether a nation experiences stability or chaos,” said Lantos Swett.
USCIRF also announced that eight nations were placed on its Tier 2 List for 2013: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia. USCIRF found the violations these nations commit are especially severe, and meet at least one criterion, but not all, of the Commission’s three-fold “systematic, ongoing, egregious” CPC standard by which Tier 1 nations are identified. The USCIRF report also highlights the status of religious freedom in nations that do not meet the Tier 1 (CPC) or Tier 2 threshold. These include Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela and Western Europe.
Since its creation in 1998, the USCIRF has been controversial, both at home and abroad. At home, criticism typically focuses on the charge that the US should be more willing to assist CPC nations to improve their record rather than just putting them on a “blacklist” for the world to see. Abroad, nations have frequently criticized the US for its attitude of “arrogance” in thinking that it is superior to other sovereign nations and entitled to criticize them for religious freedom abuses when the US hardly has a spotless record itself. Nevertheless, after 15 years of activity, there is little doubt that the USCIRF reports have often motivated CPC nations to improve their religious freedom records. USCIRF’s work has also exposed serious religious freedom abuses that should be brought to the world’s attention.
An Arab teacher at a Jewish school was attacked with stones and racist obscenities when she and a Jewish fellow teacher exited a car. The car’s windshield was broken. About 40 people gathered at the Muslim teacher’s home in solidarity with her and to apologize for the attack.
Teenagers from the a yeshiva high school in the area have since been arrested.
Although there are many clerics opposed to girls’ participation in sports, the spokesman for the Saudi Education Ministry stated that Islam allows girls to participate provided they abide by Islamic law. This has been interpreted to mean that girls must dress appropriately, cannot participate with boys nor be seen by males when participating in sporting events. (The first two Saudi female Olympic athletes were not shown competing during the London 2012 Olympics broadcast in Saudi Arabia.)
Because powerful clerics state protecting women from harassment means they cannot compete in sports and must avoid public roles, sports will be available only to those girls attending private schools.
Some inmates in British Columbia federal prisons are suing the Canadian government for discriminating against their religious beliefs by failing to renew part-time chaplain contracts. Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Wiccans and Buddhists claim that since the federal government refused to renew these contracts chaplains of their faith traditions are not allowed the same access to prisons and many have not obtained the spiritual mentoring needed in their rehabilitation.
The federal government claims that it is not discriminating as the decision not to renew part-time chaplain contracts affected 31 Christian chaplains and only 18 non-Christian chaplains. It is unknown if the 31 Christian chaplains were members of minority faiths within Christianity.
April 29, 1967: Muhammad Ali is stripped of his boxing title because the day before he refused to become a member of the United States Army claiming his conscience prevented him from fighting in the Viet Nam War
While Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists gathered in Kiev to honor a Ukrainian Christian who protected a 500-year old rural synagogue, some Orthodox Christians picketed the ceremony claiming that it is heresy to ‘make common council with Muslims and Jews.’ Boris Slobodnyuk single-handedly prevented the community from tearing down the synagogue, one of the largest in Ukraine.
Noting the increasing violence worldwide against those espousing minority religious beliefs and practices, the Parliamentary Assembly voted that member states are to recognize and take measures to protect religious minorities in the countries they deal with, ensuring that democratic principles of religious freedom are included in any agreements between member countries and third countries.
A twenty-four year old man rushed and stabbed the choir director near the end of Mass at a Catholic Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The assailant thought the choir director was a Mason. Three others also received stabbing injuries attempting to stop the assailant. Some of the parishioners, remembering St. Catherine of Siena, expressed forgiveness for the assailant and were praying for him and his family.
Arlene’s Flowers of Richland, Washington refused to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage stating that doing so violated their conscience. Now a bill has been introduced into the state legislature amending Washington’s law forbidding discrimination. If the bill passes, businesses and individuals can deny their services when doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs.