U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom Chairman Testifies on Latest Threats to Religious Liberties
Christians, Muslims, Baha’is, Jews & others targeted for their faith is topic of congressional human rights hearing;
Assaults on the religious freedoms of people in China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran and other places around the globe—and U.S. efforts to address this abuse—were the focus of a congressional hearing Thursday afternoon chaired by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees global human rights issues.
“The headlines are filled with examples of religious freedom violations,” Smith said. “A 27-year-old expectant mother, Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, is imprisoned and faces a death sentence in Sudan because she refused to renounce her Christian faith. Also in Nigeria, Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram is holding 276 school girls hostage after kidnapping them from their school dorms in the middle of the night.
“In the United States, we claim religious freedom as the ‘first freedom’ because of its placement at the top of the Bill of Rights enumerated in our Constitution, and because of its foundational role in the life of a free and democratic nation,” Smith said. “Religious freedom is a constant reminder to governments that their power is limited, that governments do not create rights but merely recognize them, and that a man or woman’s first duty is to his or her well-formed conscience. Anti-semitism has resurfaced in Ukraine with a series of violent attacks following the ouster of former Prime Minister Yanukovich.” (Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks.)
Dr. Robert George, a professor at Princeton University and chairman of the bipartisan U.S. government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), was the lead-off witness at the hearing, entitled “Protecting Religious Freedom: U.S. Efforts to Hold Accountable Countries of Particular Concern,” held before the House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee on global human rights. George was followed by (click on the names to read their testimonies or here to watch video of the hearing): Amjad Khan, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA,; Kenneth Bowers, National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’ is, and; Bob Fu, Pastor and Executive Director of ChinaAid.
Chairman George said the U.S. law called the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) is a key component of the U.S. effort to support religious freedom abroad, making religious freedom a priority in U.S. foreign policy. Signed into law in 1998, IRFA was a response to the growing concern about religious persecution worldwide and the perception that religious freedom was an orphaned human right that the U.S. government often neglected. It produces regular reports that designate “Countries of Particular Concern,” (CPC).
“This hearing is timely and important,” George said. “Religious freedom remains under serious assault across much of the world. This pivotal human right is central to U.S. history, affirmed by international treaties and obligations, and a practical necessity crucial to the security of the United States and the world.” Click here to read Chairman George’s testimony.
George testified thatin its 2014 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the State Department re-designate Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan as CPCs. The report also recommends that Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam as CPCs.
The bipartisan commission is tasked with defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad, reviewing reports of religious freedom violations and making policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the congressional leadership of both political parties.
Bower said Bahá’ís are under constant monitoring and surveillance, and are required to register with the government.
“They are not permitted to hold government jobs, are officially barred from receiving business licenses in many categories of business, and private employers are pressured not to hire them,” Bower testified. “Their homes are raided and their property is taken without compensation; over 2,000 cases of confiscation of real property from Bahá’ís have been documented since the revolution. Bahá’ís are also denied legal redress for crimes that are committed against them, including vandalism, assault, and arson. Bahá’í marriages are not recognized, Bahá’ís cannot inherit the property of their relatives who have died, and numerous Bahá’í cemeteries have been defaced, destroyed and desecrated. In short, the Bahá’í experience in Iran is one of ‘cradle to grave’ persecution.”
Kahn told the House panel that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is arguably the most persecuted Muslim community in the world. Founded in 1889, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a revivalist movement within Islam. He said Ahmadi Muslims believe in the Kalima (the principal creed of a Muslim) and espouse the motto of “Love for all, hatred for none.” As a central tenet of its faith, the Community rejects terrorism for any and all reasons, Kahn said.
“The U.S. State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and dozens of human rights non-governmental organizations have documented the systematic persecution endured by our Community at the hands of religious extremists and state and quasi-state institutions in numerous countries around the world, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya and Syria,” Kahn testified.
Pastor Fu of ChinaAid said that since the beginning of 2014, the Chinese government has intensified its suppression and persecution of house churches in China.
“The suppression and compulsory conversion of Falun Gong practitioners have never stopped. Since Xi Jinping took the office, particularly in recent six months, China’s policy on religious freedom has significantly regressed,” Fu said. “The rapid decline of the environment of religious freedom in China urgently demands the attention of the United States and other western countries.”
He noted that 64 churches in the Zhejiang area alone have been forcibly demolished or desecrated.
“The religious freedom and rights prescribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights are basic rights of all humanity and universal values recognized by the world,” Fu said. “But the Chinese Communist government has been persistently committing massive violations of basic human rights and universal values.
“The U.S. administration, including the President, Secretary of State and other high-ranking officials do not publicly protest China’s lasting and escalating religious persecution, but rather keep quiet or turn a blind eye. The Chinese government should stop all forms of religious persecution right away, truly implement what it promised in its constitution that citizens have the right of religious freedom and other basic rights, and truly govern China according to law.”