The chairman of a federal commission on religious freedom says the Obama Administration has not engaged enough on promoting religious freedom abroad.
“Presidential references to religious freedom have become rare, often replaced at most with references to freedom of worship,” said Leonard Leo, chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. “The same holds true for many of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speeches.”
Leo said this shift in language could be viewed internationally as a narrowing commitment to human rights, since freedom of worship is only one aspect of freedom of religion. Leo said this concern of not prioritizing freedom of religion in foreign policy has also come up under previous administrations.
“Today, our point is less to assess blame or intention and more to encourage the administration to underscore the importance of freedom of religion and belief,” Leo said. He urged the administration to appoint a new ambassador-at-large on international religious freedom.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, released its annual report on freedom of religion abuses worldwide Thursday in Washington, D.C.
The report recommended that the State Department add five countries to its list of Countries of Particular Concern, bringing the total to 13 countries.
Leo said the commission found that governments in majority Muslim countries are the most oppressive of the free practice of Islam. The report included for the first time an informal list of prisoners who have been detained, jailed, or are otherwise missing presumably because of their religious beliefs.
Leo emphasized that the USCIRF’s role is to suggest how U.S. foreign policy can promote religious freedom, not just collect facts on religious freedom across the globe.
“We are not simply in the business of finding facts,” Leo said. “We are in the business of making very serious and important policy recommendations.”
Leo said the commission focused on eight countries: China, Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Vietnam. Those countries were selected based on three frameworks determined by the commission: state hostility towards religion, state-sponsored extremist ideology and impunity, or when a state does nothing against religious freedom violations.
The Department of State’s current CPC list consists of Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. The USCIRF report recommended the addition of Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam to the list.