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January 18, 2011

Who Fights for Religious Freedom? Obama's Ambassador Position Still Vacant

Also, Open Doors USA gives Barbara Boxer the second highest score in the Senate for sponsoring religious freedom legislation.

No one leads the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) after two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. The IRF vacancy demonstrates the low priority currently placed on religious freedom even though there is nearly unanimous, bipartisan support for international religious freedom in Congress.

Obama did not send a nomination to the Senate until June 2010, nominating Suzan Johnson Cook, a pastor long on religion but short on international human rights. The Senate then failed to act. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee did not hold a hearing on the nomination until November and the Senate never voted on the nomination. Senator DeMint (R-SC) put a hold on the nomination, effectively vetoing it, according to Samuel G. Freedman of the New York Times. As a result, the office remains vacant for the foreseeable future.

“The Obama administration seems to have decided that other policy initiatives -- outreach to Muslim governments, obtaining China's cooperation, advancing gay rights -- would be compromised by vigorous advocacy for religious freedom,” Thomas Farr, the first director of the IRF, wrote in the Washington Post last year.

Farr said that the IRF office has been “emasculated” because the office is not treated like similar offices and no longer has the same staff reporting to it as in earlier administrations.

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Open Doors USA, an advocacy group for the religious freedom of Christians, examined congressional officials who lead the fight for international religious freedom by evaluating who sponsored legislation. Leaders come from both the right and left, Republicans and Democrats. Open Doors gave Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) the second highest score in the Senate. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) also received high marks for their advocacy work.

The new 112th Congress may be less active on religious freedom issues because of important changes in the Senate. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) was the key leader on the issue, but he left the Senate to become governor of Kansas. Sen. Kaufman (D-DE) and Sen. Bond (R-MO) are also not returning.

Other noted leaders on the scorecard are well-known among Christian conservatives. In the Senate, Sen. Brownback (R-KS), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) took the reins on several issues such as the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Those in the House who actively supporting greater international religious freedom included Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO).

When legislators do advocate changes in U.S. foreign policy, their motives may be tied to constituency as much as conviction. Some Christian conservatives support the causes of Christians worldwide, such in Sudan, Egypt, or India. Calls on Turkey to allow the Ecumenical Patriarchate to operate a seminary come from legislators who represent areas with high Orthodox populations (e.g., New Jersey). Sen. Boxer has spearheaded legislation on religious liberty in Vietnam, and California has one of the largest Vietnamese immigrant populations in the United States.

Open Doors USA also examines resolutions that addressed the freedom for all religious groups from Baha'i in Iran to Yazidis in Iraq. When a religious freedom resolution comes up for a vote in Congress, it passes with little or no opposition.

The key, however, is to get a resolution to the floor for a vote. In the past two years, Congress has approved resolutions against religious liberty in Iran, Iraq, and China. But the House and Senate did not vote on resolutions against countries whose diplomatic relations are sensitive to issues of religious freedom, such as Turkey, Vietnam, and Pakistan.

Comments

What do you expect from a politician? they say one thing to get elected and the complete opposite when sworn in!

Here is an instance where reliance upon our government to to the righteous thing is futile. The government did do the right thing in regards to slavery or racial equality. It did not do the right thing in regards to disparities in our education system, abortion, and a host of other issues.

Why should not Christians pray -- seek God's council and do the righteous thing with or without the government's help? Boycotts, giving aid to missionaries and indigenous ministries, lobbying foreign governments as the law allows. Also if our government won't do anything, lobby the UN, the Vatican. Fight for brothers and sisters overseas.

My last assignment as an Army chaplain was to be the Military Advisor to the Ambassador at Large for International Religous Freedom in the IRF Office in the Department of State. Tom Farr is a good friend and was an excellent advocate for International Freedom as was the first Ambassador, Bob Seiple. Tom's assessment of the status of the office is absolutly on target. Religion seems to be a four letter word in the Department of State. While I was there we had three programs that worked on Reconciliation, I would bet there are none now.
The Department of State and President Obama could learn a lot about Just War, Reconciliation, the role of religion in Deplomacy and in statescraft from informed member of the religious community. President Obama in his talk at West Point and in Oslo used the Just War Tradition to articulate the US position on Iraq and Afghanistan. I am sorry that he politicized a very important ethical conversation on the justice or unjustness of these wars. Most tragic of all is that the US Military trains all service members in the Just War tradition and the International Laws of War and then does not honor that conscience by allowing for Selective Conscientious Objection. I would like to see the President and the Secretary of State name a person with the moral fortitude to be the advocate for religious freedom as articulated by the UN Human Rights Documents. I pray that the President with act with dispatch and courage. I hope you will join in prayer for your faith tradition or if you have no faith tradition, exercise your responsibilty for justice in our governance.

A fascinating perspective, Col Keizer. From an academic perspective, I might add a couple observations.

1) While religious freedom is integral to the kind of world the US wants to promote, like all human rights, it can be hard to square with material interests. In the end, overseas, the US government is fundamentally charged with advancing the latter. Religious freedom is a practical and moral good, but I can see how the State Dept. might be uncomfortable with religion given its other responsibilities.

2) allen above is right - believers are still free, and obliged, to take action as they see fit.

3) (for what it's worth) Obama seems to be comfortable in a religious setting, but not actually comfortable with religion itself.

I would think that the reason for inaction from the Obama administration is not unlike the decision taken by the Republicans in the Senate: why provide a victory for the other side? Certainly the decision for closing the ranks on the part of conservatives, useful as it is as a political tactic, reduces opportunities for meaningful interaction by the two sides.

In fairness, it may also be a case where this position lies somewhere farther down the line than judges. There, appointments are at an all time low, again in part for partisan reasons, but also from an apparent disinclination by the administration to use its political capital or focus on these activities.

This is good article for freedom of religion and belief.
but what the US government is doing positively?
In Pakistan no christian is spare and every day they are tortured, beated ,put in prision and kill by the muslim mob .Asi Bibi did not say any thing againt their religion and all religious parties in Pakistan are against this innocent lady.
Christians from Pakistan , if they escape from Pakistan because of persecution and come in US for protection But US governemtn do not give them protection nor approve their assylum cases.
Governor of Punjab Province/Biggest Province in Pakistan was assessinated by his own guard. two Christian evengelists brothers were martyred in Faisalabad in the court premises by Muslims.
this month two Christain women in Lahore city were beaten, and they are hiding now where they are no one knows, who willprotect them ?
who will help them .these are the challenges Christian community is facing in Pakistan and all over the Muslim world
Muslims living in USA are enjoyig the same freedom , liberty and rights no persecution.but in Mulsim countries it is totally opposite.
Please pray for Christians all over the world living in Muslim countries.
Be a voice of poor and persecuted people in Muslim and communist world.
God bless you.this is His promise .