Religious Persecution in the Global Balance It May Rightfully Rank Low in World Security Priorities

Article excerpt

A Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee has approved a bill with the presumptuous title of Freedom from Religious Persecution Act of 1997. This is an idea whose time should never come.

The bill would impose sanctions on countries where individuals are persecuted because of their religious beliefs or activities. The sanctions might include trade restrictions and withholding of foreign assistance. Their gravity would vary according to the gravity of the persecution. An Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring would be created in the White House to keep tabs on the behavior of other governments.

A serious attempt to implement these provisions would cause untold problems. It would create friction with most countries outside western Europe through American intrusion into sensitive areas of their national life. By creating an office in the White House independent of the State Department and other foreign affairs agencies, it would complicate the formidable problems of managing foreign policy. Dedication to religious freedom is deeply rooted in American history; it was in search of such freedom that some of the first settlers came to North America in the 17th century. Protecting this freedom worldwide would be desirable, but achieving this goal may be beyond our means without unacceptable sacrifices of other worthwhile objectives. There is a fine line between insisting on a decent respect for human dignity and freedom, on the one hand, and preaching sanctimonious hypocrisy, on the other. There are many questions of balance in measuring the trade-offs that are involved in all foreign policy decisions. The US is a big country with worldwide interests, some of them conflicting. These include, among others, national security, access to critical materials, protection of American business and citizens abroad, trade, and recognition of a number of human rights. The relative importance of different interests varies from country to country and from time to time. Making foreign policy involves putting these variables in the proper order. Ever since the days of President Nixon, for example, successive administrations have ranked the promotion of human rights in Cuba as more important to the US than the promotion of human rights in China. There is no evidence that the government of Cuba mistreats its citizens more than does the government of China. The difference in US policy is simply a recognition of the greater importance of China in other respects. …