Magazine article Insight on the News

Worshiping Worldwide

Magazine article Insight on the News

Worshiping Worldwide

Article excerpt

The State Department's country reports have exposed nations to public scrutiny. Now, its first annual report on global religious freedom brings added focus to that human right.

For six months now, Robert A. Seiple has occupied one of the U.S. government's hot seats on human rights. Seiple, 56, an evangelical Christian who is U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, believes nations must be mutually accountable. Indeed, the notion of mutual accountability is the justification for the first U.S. annual report on religious liberty, which assessed 194 countries.

Based on the report, the State Department has declared that regimes such as Burma and Iran show "particularly severe violations of religious freedom," justifying current sanctions. The document not only tells of Sudan's mass killings of Christians but also of discriminatory sect lists compiled in France and Belgium. China has jailed Catholic bishops, crushed evangelical churches and is rounding up a mass spiritual group called Falun Gong.

"We don't take any joy in putting China on the list," says Seiple, adding that his role is not to make any of these countries poster children of evil. "As far as I'm concerned, if we did all of this quietly without any publicity, that would be great."

The new annual report was mandated last year by the International Religious Freedom Act, apparently satisfying two concerns in U.S. foreign policy. The law allows the United States to keep trade and strategic cooperation with even the worst regimes and yet provides options to embarrass or punish them with sanctions if religious liberty is curtailed.

"I have not heard any dissatisfaction from Capitol Hill or the public-interest groups," says Rabbi David Saperstein, chairman of the 10-member U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent panel that advises Seiple. "Bob Seiple is changing the way foreign policy is done. He is in the faces of the State Department people all the time on this issue."

According to Seiple, however, his most powerful lever is truth-telling. "We wanted to do a factual narrative that people could look at to see the state the world is in," he says. The data collected by hundreds of American officials over six months are forging a new consciousness in U.S. foreign policy. "Religious freedom is being woven deeply into our foreign policy in a way that it hasn't been in the past."

According to Joshua Muravchik, an American Enterprise Institute scholar who has written on human rights, issues of religious liberty strike a domestic chord, too. …

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