Thursday, December 22, 2011

Whither America on Religious Freedom? -- UPDATE

By Elizabeth Kendal

USCIRF SURVIVES, BUT IS EVISCERATED


As Emily Belz reports for World Magazine (16 Dec 2011): "After four months of struggle, Congress approved the reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, hours before the commission was set to shut down. The House approved the final reauthorization of USCIRF by a voice vote Friday (16 Dec), in a bill that will reduce the commission’s budget and remove most of the current commissioners."

For background see previous post:
Whither America on Religious Freedom? 8 Dec 2011

That Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill. could essentially take a bill hostage by means of a secret procedural "hold" after it had passed in the U.S. House of Representative by a vote of 391-21 (15 Sept 2011), and then play games with it in order to advance an agenda, is astonishing and profoundly undemocratic. To ensure that there would be a high degree of desperation and no time for debate, Durbin waited until the 11th hour before releasing his "hold" on H.R. 2867 (the bill reauthorising funding for the USCIRF) and introducing his amendment S.AMDT. 1461, which limits commissioners to two-year terms.

When Congress voted on Friday 16 Dec, the legislators essentially had no option other than to pass Durbin's amendment or see the USCIRF close.

Congressman Frank Wolf, R-Va., slammed Durbin's move charging that it essentially amounted to "blackmail", while Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. condemned the amendment as "bad".

As it was, the original reauthorisation Bill cut the USCIRF's funding from $4 million to $3 million and reduced the number of commissioners (all unpaid) from nine to five. With Durbin's amendment, seven of the nine current commissioners will be permanently forced out. As Southern Baptist minister Reverend Richard Land laments, the effect of the amendment will be to leave the USCIRF with "very little institutional memory".

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On the surface this looked like basic political pork-barrelling by a rogue Senator. However, on closer inspection it looks more like premeditated strategic manoeuvring with one of the intended outcomes being the evisceration of the USCIRF.

Senator Durbin's alleged reason for placing a procedural "hold" on H.R. 2867, was that he wanted to "force members of the House of Representatives into earmarking funds for the federal government to purchase a state prison in Thompson, Illinois that his home state can no longer afford to operate". (Gaffney)

Frank Gaffney, Jr., the President of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for the Washington Times, writes: "When the idea of a federal takeover of this facility was first floated last year, it ran into strenuous opposition on both sides of Capitol Hill. Not only was the deal deemed to be unaffordable at a time of yawning federal deficits. It turned out that the Obama administration and its allies in Illinois' Democratic machine in Washington and Springfield state had in mind another, even more outrageous motivation: the Thompson prison could serve as the place to relocate terrorists currently held offshore at Guantanamo Bay, allowing Gitmo's closure.

"In other words, Sen. Durbin is seeking to secure by stealth an earmark that would overturn existing legislation barring the relocation of such detainees inside the United States - and the real risk that they would, thereby, be granted constitutional rights, access to civilian U.S. courts and perhaps be set loose in our country by irresponsible federal judges."

See: Silencing the Watchdogs of Religious Freedom: Durbin's War on the USCIRF
Center for Security Policy | Dec 12, 2011
By Frank Gaffney, Jr.

Be that as it may, why did Durbin suddenly release the bill even though he had failed to secure the ransom? And if Durbin was simply accepting defeat on the matter of Thompson prison, how come the bill (his hostage) came back with an amendment attached?

According to Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., "There are people who are trying to kill this commission."

Reporting for World Magazine, Emily Belz writes (15 Dec): "Smith said President Bill Clinton opposed the creation of the commission and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doesn't want it around now, either. The State Department hasn't undertaken many of the commission's recommendations in recent years . . .

"'Religious freedom is not a priority' at the State Department, said Smith. 'Homosexual rights and abortion rights' are priorities, he said, referring to the Obama administration's recent push to put gay rights at the top of its global human rights agenda."

According to Gaffney, "the Obama administration has been working behind the scenes to do as its Islamist friends have demanded by shutting down the USCIRF. It has enlisted for this purpose Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate's Number 2 Democrat. Sen. Durbin is not only perfectly placed to do the deed stealthily. He has his own close associations with a number of the Brotherhood's top fronts and operatives in his home state of Illinois, in Washington and elsewhere across the country. . ."

That the highest levels of the US administration could be complicit in the evisceration of the USCIRF is very disturbing. It will be interesting to see who the administration appoints to fill the USCIRF's vacancies. If the new commissioners do not come with considerable experience in international religious liberty, then, though the USCIRF might survive, it will have been rendered harmless (harmless, that is, to religious liberty abusers) and non-threatening (non-threatening, that is, to economically and geo-strategically beneficial but morally compromising alliances).

ISOLATED INCIDENTS OR A TREND?

As noted in the previous posting, when the Obama administration recently appointed the popular and immensely gifted Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook to the post of US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom -- after a lengthy delay -- it was praised for finally filling the post, thereby affirming America's commitment to international religious freedom. This was despite the fact that the appointee had absolutely no experience in international religious freedom. In no other field would such a thing be tolerated.

As I have previously noted, when it comes to dealing with the propaganda and religio-political ideologies and strategies that threaten religious liberty both domestically and internationally, lack of religious liberty background puts the cause of religious liberty at a serious disadvantage.

In the light of this, the machinations surrounding the reauthorisation of funding for the USCIRF provide me with an uneasy sense of déjà vu.

Is the Obama administration intentionally and strategically disempowering international religious liberty advocacy because, while it wants to appear domestically to be supportive of it, in reality, it doesn't want to be embarrassed internationally by it?

By retaining the religious freedom bodies, the form or appearance of international religious freedom advocacy is maintained for the purpose of public relations and propaganda. But by filling these bodies with appointees who, despite their gifts and graces, have little or no experience in dealing with the religio-political complexities inherent in international religious liberty advocacy, they render those bodies ineffective, or worse.

How does the administration get away with it? Well, if the administration can hold the sword of Damocles over the heads of religious freedom advocacy bodies for long enough, then for mere life all will be immensely grateful!

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The reality is, when powerful alliances and/or big money and /or geo-strategic gains are involved, there is nothing more inconvenient than an informed, experienced and passionate dedicated religious freedom advocate who is absolutely committed to shattering the deadly silence.

Christians should pray for Rev Suzan Johnson Cook -- the Obama-appointed US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom -- that she might learn quickly, be gifted with discernment and wisdom, and have the courage to be the most inconvenient Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom America has ever known!

Likewise, Christians should pray that when the Obama administration appoints new commissioners to the USCIRF in the next few months, they will prove to be the most inconvenient religious liberty advocates imaginable!

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21 ESV)

As violent persecution escalates and impunity becomes the order of the day, the last thing the persecuted need is to be left to suffer in darkness under a shroud of silence.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Whither America on Religious Freedom?

-- Implementing the OIC's Resolution 16/18 (with updates)
-- USCIRF prepares for closure
-- New foreign policy priority: LGBT Rights

By Elizabeth Kendal

During the week of 12-16 Dec 2011, the US will have two opportunities to either defend OR diminish religious liberty. Religious liberty is already in decline in the US (see Religious Liberty Monitoring, label: USA). But by the end of next week we should know exactly what path the Obama administration intends to take with regard to domestic and international religious liberty policy. Will the tide be turned OR will the Obama administration add momentum to the flow of world forces in this age of escalating persecution? Whither America?


The US and the OIC: implementing UNHRC Resolution 16/18

As I have noted previously, far from being a breakthrough for free speech, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC's) new Resolution 16/18, "Combating intolerance . . ." is actually more dangerous than resolution 2005/3, "Combating Defamation of Religion". Indeed, the strategic shift from defamation to incitement actually advances the OIC's primary goal: the criminalisation of criticism of Islam. For, in Resolution 16/18, the OIC has deliberately and strategically adopted the language of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 20.2, which mandates: any advocacy of hatred that "constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law".

As The International Islamic News Agency (IINA) reported on 1 Aug 2011, implementation of the resolution will require that domestic and international laws be enacted to prevent the incitement that results "from the continued defamation of religions." In other words, anything that could have been deemed defamation under Resolution 2005/3 will doubtless now be deemed incitement under Resolution 16/18 -- incitement which must be prohibited by law.

The question no one seems to be asking is: What is it that makes some people highly incitable to reactionary violence and destruction?

For full background see: UNHRC Resolution 16/18
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 21 Aug 2011.

The first meeting pursuant of Resolution 16/18 took place in Istanbul on 15 July 2011. The next meeting will be held in Washington from 12-14 December 2011. It will be hosted by the Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook, (profile New York Times) the new US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

In July 2010, Foreign Police magazine noted that the Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook's appointment was "welcome but curious". For while the Harlem-born Johnson Cook (54) has an impressive, indeed phenomenal, resume -- particularly in urban evangelistic and pastoral ministry -- she has no experience at all in religious liberty or foreign policy.

I would suggest that when it comes to dealing with the propaganda and religio-political strategies that threaten religious liberty both domestically and internationally, then lack of religious liberty background puts the cause of religious liberty at a serious disadvantage. A cynic might even question whether this was exactly why Rev Johnson Cook -- described by the New York Times as "Billy Graham and Oprah rolled into one" -- was appointed.

Concerning the forthcoming US-OIC meeting, Judson Berger of FOX News notes: "Critics describe the get-together . . . as a Trojan horse for the long-running OIC push for restrictions on speech.

"A key worry is that the meeting could become a platform for Islamic governments to push for hate-speech laws which, in their most virulent and fundamentalist form, criminalize what they perceive as blasphemy.

"'It's just an astonishingly bad decision,' said Nina Shea, who sits on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and serves as director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom."

See: Free Speech Concerns Ahead of Meeting With Muslim Nations on Religious Tolerance
By Judson Berger for FoxNews, 11 Nov 2011

UPDATE:
D.C. Islamophobia Conference Was a Bad Idea
December 13, 2011 11:19 A.M.
By Nina Shea
QUOTE: Legal and security officials of a delegation which will remain unnamed gave a sweeping overview of American founding principles on religious freedom and how they have been breached time and again in American history by attacks against a broad variety of religious minority groups — including now against Muslims. A raft of current cases were mentioned; America’s relative exemplary and distinctive achievement in upholding religious freedom in an emphatically pluralistic society was not. That same speaker reassured the audience, which was packed with diplomats from around the world, that the Obama administration is working diligently to prosecute American Islamophobes and is transforming the U.S. Justice Department into the conscience of the nation . . .

Across the room, smirking delegates from some of the world’s most repressive and intolerant regimes could be spotted, furiously taking notes.

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The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) prepares for closure.

The US International Freedom from Religious Persecution (IFRP) Act 1998 tied international religious freedom to US foreign policy by mandating that sanctions be leveled against regimes deemed to be severe violators of religious liberty. As such, the US IFRP Act caste a veil of protection over many of the world's vulnerable religious minorities by ensuring that dictators had a reason to reign in their most intolerant and belligerent elements.

There is little doubt that the financial crisis of August 2008 robbed the US of her economic leverage, which in turn robbed the US Freedom from International Persecution (US IFRP) Act 1998 of its power. This is why persecution has increased so dramatically since Aug 2008. With the veil of protection stripped away, vulnerable religious minorities are now finding that impunity is the order of the day. And impunity is like fuel to the fires of persecution.

Despite this new reality, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) -- a Commission created by the US IFRP Act -- is still desperately needed. As violent persecution escalates globally, the USCIRF's role in monitoring religious liberty and advising the President, the Secretary of State, the US Congress and indeed the world, is more important than ever.

When impunity is the order of the day, the last thing the persecuted want or need is silence. Indeed, with violent persecution increasing, it is imperative that truth-revealing, hope-inspiring, silence-shattering speech be enabled and magnified, lest the persecuted simple slip from our consciousness into deadly darkness.

Consequently, it is profoundly disturbing that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) will cease to exist from Friday 16 December 2011 unless funding is reauthorised before then.

See:
USCIRF Announcement

6 December 2011

Dick Durbin May Block Religious Freedom Commission's Renewal to Force Feds to Buy Prison He Wanted for Gitmo Detainees.
Faith McDonnell, 5 Dec 2011

See also (recommended)
Myths about religious freedom abroad
By Felice D. Gaer and Nina Shea, Commissioners on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom - 12 Dec 2011

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New foreign policy priority: LGBT (Gay) Rights.

On Tuesday 6 December, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, in recognition of International Human Rights Day.

The principle focus of her speech was LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) Rights.

As this report from Associated Press reveals: "The Obama administration is making gay rights a foreign policy priority as the U.S. government agency monitoring international religious rights [the USCIRF] prepares to close.

Secretary of State Clinton's speech, which has been received with great excitement in the Gay community, has some serious worrying elements. (Transcript)

Excerpts and comments:

"In the 63 years since the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] was adopted, many nations have made great progress in making human rights a human reality. . . In many places . . . the ability of religious minorities to practice their faith freely has been secured.
[Is this a "Mission Accomplished" statement?]

"Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm. I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] people . . .

"Now, raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs.
[Note: undefined "religious beliefs" are, in and of themselves, deemed to be an obstacle to the human rights of LGBT people.]

"Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights."
[This implies that any religious teaching that conflicts with "human rights" as defined by the UN and "international community" will be rejected as erroneous interpretations, unrepresentative of the faith: i.e. the Islamic fundamentalist teaching that homosexuals should be killed; and the traditional mainline Christian teaching that homosexuals couples are not eligible for marriage which is defined as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.]

"Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings."
[Considering the fact that Mrs Clinton is speaking to a highly diverse audience, what does she mean by "our religion" and "our culture"? Clearly Mrs Clinton is asserting here that all religions and cultures are not only inherently the same, but inherently compassionate and inspirational as well. Of course the dhimmis and dalits of this world -- human beings who want their human rights protected FROM abusive religion and culture -- might disagree.]

"It was not only those who've justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source."
[NOTE: "dignity" is not defined. To one it may mean right to live in peace and security according to the traditional understanding of human rights, while to another, dignity might include the "right" not to be offended, or the "right" not to have your religious or lifestyle choices challenged.]

The following paragraph is especially concerning.

"But progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate." (emphasis mine)
[This is a clear, unambiguous warning that laws will soon be enacted to teach us not to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. How long will it be before anti-defamation or anti-incitement laws are enacted that will essentially criminalise all criticism of the LGBT lifestyle? Just as the OIC is seeking to protect and advance Islam, so too is the Gay lobby seeking to protect and advance the homosexual lifestyle -- all in the name of "human rights". But this has nothing to do with human rights. This is authoritarian repression and radical social engineering in the name / under the cover of human rights.]

"This morning, back in Washington, President Obama put into place the first U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad. Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons.

"I am also pleased to announce that we are launching a new Global Equality Fund that will support the work of civil society organizations working on these issues around the world. This fund will help them record facts so they can target their advocacy, learn how to use the law as a tool, manage their budgets, train their staffs, and forge partnerships with women’s organizations and other human rights groups. We have committed more than $3 million to start this fund, and we have hope that others will join us in supporting it." (emphasis mine)
[So if the Obama administration fails to reauthorize funding for the USCIRF, then at least we will know where the money is going!]


See also:
Obama, Clinton to World: Stop Gay Discrimination
By Anne Geran, AP National Security Writer
GENEVA, 6 December 2011 (AP)
Quote: The Obama administration bluntly warned the world against gay and lesbian discrimination Tuesday, declaring the U.S. will use foreign assistance as well as diplomacy to back its insistence that gay rights are fully equal to other basic human rights.

Obama Elevates Gay Rights as a Foreign Policy Priority
Dan Robinson, at the White House for Voice of America, 6 Dec 2011

Clinton Says Obama Wants Gay Rights Over Religious Freedom in Key Speech
By Paul Stanley, Christian Post, 7 Dec 2011

COMMENTARY: Obama, Clinton put world on notice over LGBT rights
Ken Williams - Editor in Chief, SDGLN (San Diego Gay & Lesbian News)
7 December 2011