US Grapples with How to Help Curtail Religious Persecution Abroad

By Lampman, Jane | The Christian Science Monitor, February 22, 2001 | Go to article overview

US Grapples with How to Help Curtail Religious Persecution Abroad


Lampman, Jane, The Christian Science Monitor


President Bush boldly injected religion into his domestic agenda with a new office to fund faith-based social programming. Will he be as bold on the foreign-policy front?

For two years now, in response to Americans' growing concerns about religious persecution in other countries, the US has kept a close eye on violations of freedom abroad. The US State Department and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom prepare annual reports, and hearings spotlight countries of particular concern. US law provides options for action against the biggest violators.

But the government's responses to the most egregious situations haven't been impressive - says the commission in its assessment for 2000 (www.uscirf.gov). China barely got tapped on the wrist as conditions continued to deteriorate, and Sudan hasn't been hit as hard with sanctions as it could be, despite horrendous practices. Other nations haven't been put on the list though situations warrant it.

Not at all surprising, realpolitik types might respond. National security and economic interests come into play. US action could sometimes be counterproductive, others say.

Can the US have any impact? Just how challenging the picture can be is evident from the commission's latest hearings, held last week on Vietnam. The Clinton administration signed a bilateral trade agreement with Vietnam in July. The US Congress will consider ratifying it this spring. Meanwhile, Vietnam's record on religious freedom may be worse than China's.

"Religious activity is enjoying a real revival," testified Zachary Abuza, of Simmons College, Boston. But while the Vietnamese government allows "individual faith, it fears the growth of organized religion, which it sees as a threat to its monopoly of power."

Consequently, it places strict controls on churches, oversees the appointment of all clergy, must approve all publications, and has seized most properties.

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