Religious Freedom Report from the US State Department

reportTurkmenistan has been placed on the list of religious freedom offenders to be considered the world’s worst by the State Department. The department calls the list, Countries of Particular Concern or CPC. Since 2006, a static eight countries have been on the list. They include Uzbekistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, Eritrea, China, and Burma.

Turkmenistan has been added to the list because the country has detained peopled because of their beliefs. These people have been beaten and tortured. They are not allowed to wear religious attire. Distributing religious material is punishable by assessing fines.

The predominate religion in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan, which was once a portion of the Soviet Union, is Sunni Muslim. Private worship is forbidden. Travel for religious education and pilgrimages is greatly restricted.

Religious organizations are required to undergo government registration. In recent years, Jehovah Witnesses, Protestant groups, and Shiite Muslins have been denied registration. Because Jehovah Witness beliefs prevent mandatory military enlistment, they face particular harassment.

This Year’s Report

This year’s edition of the State Department annual report focused on religious minorities displacement, impunity, and discrimination. John Kerry has said the CPCs were not the only religious freedom offenders. Europe sentiments are anti-Muslim and Jewish populations are considering emigration to escape anti-Semitism in some European countries.

Nigeria, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Syria have failed to protect religious communities that face violence, harassment, and discrimination. An independent panel, created by Congress to serve as watchdogs and review conditions of international religious freedom, has recommended that most of these countries be added to the CPC list. Kerry feels the report shines a light on countries that make them uncomfortable. Some of the countries are our allies. He calls for action to change the reality that exists.

No report is complete without citing the positive and negative. There are some positive developments. Pakistani Muslins protected Christian worshippers by forming human chains when a church was bombed in Peshawar. A watch team from a Jewish neighborhood ensured safe access for Muslim leaders to mosques in London after they were subjected to a series of attacks.

Pressure on Turkmenistan

Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican Representative, is among staunch advocates for religious freedom foreign policy. He not only wants Turkmenistan on the CPC list, he wants it backed by a plan that addresses the persecution that is taking place. He is concerned about activity in Vietnam and China also. He noted that Liu Xiabo has been detained in China since 2010. Xiabo is a human rights campaigner and Nobel laureate.

From a Catholic standpoint, this puts John Kerry in both a good and bad light. No Catholic is going to deny the religious freedom taken from so many around the world needs to be addressed. Kerry stands for issues that the Catholic Church condemns and sees as human rights and religious freedom issues.

Kerry is a legalized abortion supporter. Bishops of the Church have stated that Kerry’s beliefs on the issue of abortion should keep him from receiving communion. The Democratic party is also in favor of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Kerry’s position on the legislation, when he ran for president, was somewhat different than the plan that has been developed and placed into law today. He would have made buying health care voluntary and wanted families to be able to purchase health insurance that members of Congress enjoy.

The current legislation is criticized by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is the group’s belief the government is trying to define religion and violating civil rights. Defining faith communities is an affront to religious freedom. Mandating the payment of abortifacients and contraceptives through health care plans is an issue that not only the Catholic Church but some for-profit businesses are planning to fight.

The administration that Kerry represents has complaints lodged against a promise to sign an Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits refusing to hire based on sexual orientation. Deep religious beliefs are being challenged. If the erosion of religious freedom cannot be stopped in the US, how successful is the attempt going to be internationally?