Persecution of religious minorities overseas is a budding moral
and foreign policy problem for the Clinton administration.
As a State Department report this week indicates, the problem is
due mainly to an ongoing crackdown in places like China and Sudan
on a group the White House can't easily ignore - Christians.
But the report is proving to be controversial for its focus on
the persecution of a single faith. The approach seems heavy-handed
to many State Department officials, who argue that effective human
rights work can't be done abroad if it appears to local governments
that fickle US domestic politics are forcing the change in focus.
"My impression is that it was necessary to do this - once," says
one highly placed State Department source. "Given the climate on
the Hill, we needed to respond. ... But if this becomes a yearly
thing, it is going to be counterproductive. It will make it harder
to do human rights work, and it won't help Christians, or anyone
The report, which touched on several religious groups but
specifically addressed the persecution of Christians in 78
countries, showed that Chinese believers continue to be
systematically arrested in a widespread campaign stemming from a
central policy directive in Beijing last year.
It also urged Russia's President Boris Yeltsin to veto a law
that would severely restrict minority religious worship. Mr.
Yeltsin did veto the law just before the report's release
Religious persecution abroad is also a touchy political issue at
home for President Clinton - mainly because of an effective lobby
of conservative Christians and Jews who have the ear of an
increasing number of US lawmakers. They criticize what they see as
a White House policy of indifference toward religious minorities
overseas, including Christians.
Human rights groups grumbled loudly during the president's first
term, saying the White House neglected human rights issues. Critics
also say the culture of the State Department itself has long been
typified as elite and secular, and not especially sympathetic to
issues of faith. Foreign service officers abroad are known often to
feel more empathy with local officials than with, say,
evangelicals, whom they sometimes warn against using an aggressive
But the State Department and the White House are being nudged
down a different path by a new Washington lobby. Made up of a loose
coalition of figures, including Gary Bauer of the Family Research
Council and Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, it is trying
to awaken a broader group of religious Americans to abuses abroad -
in a way not seen since the campaign in the late '70s to stop the
persecution of Jews in the former Soviet Union. …