Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Appeal for Iraq's Imperiled Religious Communities

USCIRF Urges Upgrading Security in Iraq for Christians and Other Imperiled Religious Communities

WASHINGTON, DC - In advance of the December 15 UN Security Council meeting on Iraq, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the U.S. government to redouble its efforts, and use the international forum as an opportunity, to address the grave situation facing that country’s Christians and other imperiled religious minorities.

The Security Council meeting is slated to address the progress in Iraq to date. The recent upsurge in attacks against Christians makes clear, however, that the country’s most vulnerable religious minorities remain in peril. The smallest Iraqi religious groups—including ChaldoAssyrian, Syriac, and other Christians; Sabean Mandaeans; and Yazidis—face targeted violence, including murders and attacks on their places of worship and religious leaders, intimidation, and forced displacement; they also experience discrimination, marginalization, and neglect.

As a result, these ancient communities’ very existence in the country is now threatened. The loss of the diversity and human capital these groups represent would be a terrible blow to Iraq’s future as a secure, stable, and pluralistic democracy.

This is a particularly important period in Iraq, with a new government being formed and the U.S. military presence drawing down. USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government take the following steps to protect these vulnerable communities:

• Provide Protection: In consultation with the Christian and other minority religious communities’ political and civic representatives, identify the places throughout Iraq where these targeted minorities worship, congregate, and live, and work with the Iraqi government to assess security needs and develop and implement a comprehensive and effective plan for dedicated Iraqi military protection of these sites and areas; as this process moves forward, periodically inform Congress on progress.

• Promote Representative Community Policing: Work with the Iraqi government and the Christians’ and other smallest minorities’ political and civic representatives to establish, fund, train, and deploy representative local police units to provide additional protection in areas where these communities are concentrated.

• Prioritize Development Assistance for Minority Areas: Ensure that U.S. development assistance prioritizes areas where these vulnerable communities are concentrated, including the Nineveh Plains area, and that the use of such funding is determined in consultation with the political and civic leaders of the communities themselves.

On December 4, in the wake of the recent spate of attacks, 16 Iraqi Christian parties and organizations issued a compelling joint call for greater protection. USCIRF urges both the U.S. and Iraqi governments to heed this call and work with these leaders, as well as the leaders of the other small endangered groups in Iraq, on implementing these and other measures to protect and assist these communities before it is too late.
Read more here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Facing restrictions to religious freedom in India

Organised by the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), a consultation [sic] (or conference) next week is scheduled to bring together leaders cutting across religious lines to study the outcome of anti-conversion laws that have been implemented in at least six (Indian) states.

The Dec. 13-14 meeting "will build opinion of different religions on freedom of religion and anti-conversion laws," said Anjna Masih, secretary of the Commission on Policy, Governance and Public Witness (COP), NCCI.

"The Constitution of India under Article 25 has granted freedom to confess, practice and propagate religion of one’s choice to its citizens. Thus voluntary conversion to any religion is a fundamental right," she said.
However, she rues that there is now "blind secularism in the country" and "anyone speaking about one particular religion is branded as a ‘fundamentalist’."

"The younger generation is interested in religious pluralism and we as a civil society need to come forward to enforce religious pluralism in India."

The consultation will be on the theme "Anti Conversion Law - A threat to Secularism."

For more details read here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Japan Diet members receive petition; Media ignores nationwide events, continuing blight

TOKYO, Dec. 6, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is being issued by the International Coalition for Religious Freedom:

More than 21,000 people throughout Japan rallied to protest human rights and religious freedom violations – yet the Japanese government and media continue to ignore calls for investigations into abductions and forced conversions.

Despite the massive outpouring in all 47 prefectures in Japan – with 3,200 people gathering in Tokyo alone – the government refuses to address the issue, and the Japanese news media continues to neglect coverage of the events. The Kyodo news agency even refused to run a media advisory on its basic newswire service.

In Tokyo, organizers presented a petition to the Diet, calling on Japanese lawmakers to investigate and hold public officials accountable to uphold Japanese anti-abduction laws and constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. The petition was addressed to the speaker of Japan's House of Representatives, Takahiro Yokomichi, and the president of the House of Councilors, Takeo Nishioka. Several Diet members received the petitions in front of the Diet Building.

The main speakers at the Tokyo event included Toru Goto, the victim of a 12-year confinement and now chairman of the Japanese Victims Association against Religious Kidnapping and Forced Conversion, and Masayoshi Kajikuri, chairman of the Unification Church's Japan Kidnapping-Confinement Task Force. "Faith-breaking under forced confinement is a kind of spiritual rape," Mr. Goto declared. "It is time for Japan to live up to our constitution and protect the rights of religious believers to choose their own religion."

In addition, Mrs. Namiko Katagiri, a former victim who had been confined to an apartment in Sapporo city for five months, read the petition. Despite the pleas of her husband, police refused to search for her or to assist in her release after he located her confinement place.

The protests in Japan come as similar marches and rallies are being held in the U.S. to draw attention to the human rights violations perpetrated on Unification Church members, who have been confined by "faith-breakers" in an attempt to force them leave the religion. Experts confirm that the government and police have done little to stop the practice – a violation of both Japanese law and international human rights standards.

Read more here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yet another abduction in Japan

NEW YORK, Nov. 30, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire -- A member of the Unification Church in Japan is missing and believed to have been abducted because of her religious beliefs, the International Coalition for Religious Freedom announced today. Ms. AY has been reported missing under the probability of abduction and attempted forced conversion in Japan, the coalition said. Her fiance, Mr. Takafumi Fukuzaki, has filed a report with the police requesting an immediate investigation and said that Ms. AY was fearful for her safety to the extent that she previously filed a letter with the Unification Church, "requesting rescue in case of disappearance."

"My fiancée and I feared this day would come when one of us was abducted in Japan and held against our will because of religious beliefs," said Mr. Fukuzaki. "I am deeply concerned about the safety of my fiancée and her freedom." Church officials in Japan conveyed that police were unresponsive to Mr. Fukuzaki's pleas for help, taking the word of other relatives that she was "safe" despite her own letter requesting aid.

According to the State Department's International Freedom Report 2010, "For several years deprogrammers working with family members have reportedly abducted Unification Church members..." This includes a Unificationist who was released in 2008 "after reportedly being held against his will by family members and a professional deprogrammer for over 12 years.

"These abductions are normally carried out by relatives who confine the victim indefinitely while professionals pressure them to renounce their faith," said Dan Fefferman, President of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom. "Japanese police usually refuse to intervene despite the strict laws against forced abductions and kidnappings, particularly of adults. Law enforcement agencies in other developed nations including the United States have long recognized that religious abductions are dangerous, illegal, and not tolerated."

Ms. AY is one of an estimated 4,300 members of the Unification Church of Japan who has been subjected to human rights violations over the past 40 years. Between 10 to 20 Unification Church members are currently abducted each year in Japan to undergo forced de-conversions. Victims who escape their captors report the use of force, prison-like conditions, and intense pressure to change his or her faith. There have been reports of beatings, starvation, and rape. As frustration of Japan's inaction mounts, victims have been increasingly speaking out on the abduction issue.

Source: PRNewswire as posted on Daily Finance

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Afghan Christian to face judge Sunday - UPDATE

 Said Musa Trial postponed until next week.

BosNewsLife reports today (Tuesday, November 23rd) that Afghanistan has postponed the trial of  Said Musa.

Said Musa, 45, was to appear without a lawyer Sunday, November 21, in front of a court where a judge was expected to use 'sharia', the word for Islamic law, to reach a verdict.

Officials suggested that the trial was delayed to give the court more time to study the case amid international concerns he may be executed under legislation that was introduced by the toppled Taliban regime.

More of the story here.

Also, the Jubileee Campaign and Advocates International seem to be hot on the case.

Good news.


Compass Direct News (CDN) reports that an Afghan amputee in prison for his Christian faith since May will face a judge tomorrow (November 21, 2010) without legal representation or knowledge of the charges against him, according to local sources.

"Authorities arrested Said Musa, 45, on May 31, 2010, days after the local Noorin TV station broadcast images of Afghan Christians being baptized and worshiping," notes the CDN story.

"Though there were other arrests in May and June during the ensuing man-hunt against Christians, Musa is the only known Christian facing a court case."

Local Christians and religious freedom monitors have expressed concern that Musa may be made an example.

“The court case against Said Musa is unique,” said one religious freedom advocate, a Christian, under condition of anonymity. 

“Authorities usually don’t want court cases against Christians. This is high profile, as Musa has been on TV and was put under pressure to deny his faith publicly. This is a kind of a test case to see which law prevails in the country: sharia [Islamic law] or international agreements.”

Read more here.

Update: CNN reports that Musa could face trial as early as next week.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Japanese Media Ignores UC Japan Rights Protests

A press release announcing several American rallies calling on Japan to stop persecution and imprisonment of religious minorities has been refused for distribution in Japan by K.K. Kyodo News Agency.

The press release provides details about coordinated protests taking place in several major cities throughout the United States on Tuesday, November 16th.

Since 1966, more than 4,000 members of the Unification Church of Japan have been confined by their families and “deprogrammers” in an attempt to force them leave the religion which they, as adults, freely chose to join.

Currently, 10 to 20 Unificationists in Japan are abducted each year. Victims who escape their captors report the use of force, prison-like conditions, and intense pressure to change his or her faith. There have been reports of beatings, starvation, and rape.

Source: StopJapanAbductions.org

Japanese Ambassador Refuses Meeting

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Iraq’s Christians Still Under Siege

Iraqi Christianity has suffered another catastrophic blow that is likely to hasten the church’s wholesale flight from the country: Last evening, al-Qaeda suicide bombers laid siege to Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad during Sunday Mass while 120 local Chaldean Catholics were worshiping inside. The Washington Post reports that 42 Iraqi worshipers were killed, along with seven Iraqi rescue commandos. Among the dead are two priests, Father Wasim Sabieh and Father Thaier Saad Abdal, while a third, Father Qatin, has a bullet lodged in his head and is in uncertain condition. This is only the latest in a series of direct attacks on Iraqi churches that began in 2004.
Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, wrote to me that “since Iraq has no government, we are calling for the international community to intervene in protecting and saving the indigenous people of Iraq , the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Community.” He emphasizes, “Things are deteriorating very fast in Iraq , our people are left with no choice but to flee because they are losing hope and there is no serious actions taken to protect them as of today.”

Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Church of the East, another persecuted Christian church with an ancient presence in Iraq , sent a report as well. Apart from the widely covered information that the terrorists demanded prison releases, he documents (with two links) another, directly religious motive that enraged al-Qaeda: the conversion of Muslim girls into another Christian denomination in another country.

The terrorists belong to Al-Qaieda organization in Iraq called: Islamic State of Iraq.They were demanding according to the Iraqi sources the release of their colleagues in Iraq and Egypt . A statement by this terrorist group and circulated on the internet in their websites is warning and demanding the release of the Muslim girls from Christian background who are, according to the statement, prisoners in Egyptian Coptic Church monasteries. The statement is giving 48 hours warning time to release those girls or they will explode the church. The statement, as other cases, is fill [sic] of threats against infidels everywhere.

Christians remain the largest non-Muslim minority in Iraq , but church leaders express a real fear that the light of the faith in Iraq — which is said to have been kindled personally by Thomas, one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles — could soon be extinguished. Iraq ’s Christian population has been reduced by as much as half; adherents have been driven out by brutal terrorist attacks and government marginalization. Iraq ’s other non-Muslim religions — the much smaller groups of Mandeans (followers of John the Baptist), Yizidis (an ancient angel-centered religion), Bahai’s, and Jews — are also being forced out, and in some cases, their unique languages and cultures may not survive in exile.

Religious persecution in Iraq is so “egregious” that the country has now been included by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on a recommended short list of “Countries of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act, alongside the likes of Iran and China . No group in Iraq, Muslim or non-Muslim, has been spared massive and appalling religiously motivated violence; however, as the independent federal commission found, the one-two punch of extremist ruthlessness and deep governmental discrimination now threatens the “very existence” of Iraq’s Christian churches (some of whom still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus of Nazareth) and Iraq’s communities of Mandeans and Yizidis, which are even older. As last night’s attack again shows, these smallest minorities are not simply caught in the middle. They are being fiercely targeted for their faith.

As I have written before, this raises an urgent question for the West: Without the experience of living alongside Christians and other non-Muslims at home, what would prepare the Muslim Middle East to peacefully coexist with the West?

Posted with permission from Nina Shea.

— Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom

Women Clergy Protest Japan’s Human Rights Violations

At Independence Hall, Birthplace of Religious Freedom, 120 Women Clergy Protest Japan’s Human Rights Violations


October 29, 2010

The depth and weight of history is felt at Independence Hall. This is the place where George Washington was chosen to command the Revolutionary Army and is the place that the Declaration of Independence was signed. It is the place where the Constitutional Convention was held over which Benjamin Franklin presided. It is the place that a nation proclaimed that all men are equal and are endowed by God with inalienable rights which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty is so central at this historic place. Just across the green is the Liberty Bell which symbolizes what America fought for – God given rights. The Constitution established in its first Amendment that religious liberty was the most essential right and that all other rights are strengthened when religious freedom is secured.

On Friday, October 29th in front of the Independence Hall, 120 Women Clergy of all denominations of the American Clergy Leadership Conference Women in Ministry gathered to take a stand against the abductions and human rights violations in Japan. Representing all 50 states, the women faith leaders visited and prayed together for Religious Freedom at this hallowed place. Joined by representatives of the Women’s Federation for World Peace, they cried out from Hawaii to Texas, to New York to Chicago to Atlanta. They cried out for the freedom of others have been violently abducted, beaten and held prison under mental and physical abuse to break their faith. Why are they held. Because, they are being persecuted for their faith. The Women in Ministry decried the ongoing abduction and faith breaking of members of the Unification Church in Japan and demanded the release of the victims.

Three courageous women stood up and spoke on behalf of the 120. Rev. Fannie Smith of WFWP and ACLC WIM served for years with Operation Push in Chicago was appalled that this was not being stopped. She said, “Our sisters and brothers in Japan are being abducted from their homes, when we go back we will pledge that as Women In Ministry from all 50 states we will go to our Congressmen and Senators and we vow that we will get them to stop this injustice and free our brothers and sisters.”

Rev. Fannie Smith (WFWP and WIM), Rev. Tanya Edwards and Rev. Reiko Jenkins demand that Japan Stop the Abductions and Free the Victims

Rev. Tanya Edwards National Co Coordinator of Women in Ministry is a direct descendant of William Penn the founder of Pennsylvania and the origin of its name. She said to those gathered, “We stand at the birthplace of the Constitution and religious freedom. We are grateful because of the religious freedom that was established here, we have a place where we can worship God and serve according to our faith. We ask the leaders of Japan, if you are any kind of a leader you will let the people know about these victims and release them. We say it is time to LET THEM GO NOW.”

Rev. Reiko Jenkins, National Co Coordinator and counterpart to Rev. Tanya Edwards said, “I am from Japan and I am an American citizen. I am grateful to be in America to be able to practice my faith. The ACLC Women in Ministry will fight for this religious freedom in Japan. We will never give up until our people are free.”

At the Women In Ministry National Convention the night before Mr. Luke Higuchi and Mrs. Kumiko Francis , both victims of this violent attack on faith shared their testimony bringing the women faith leaders to tears. Mr. Higuchi who heads SAFE now shared, “I was physically thrown in a van. I was committed to a mental institution with no medical exam. I was treated like a dog. I was in solitary for months. I cannot express how terrible it was in words.” Mr. Higuchi was able to escape this torment by convincing the doctors that he was sane and they released him. Mrs. Francis, spoke through her tears, “I was abducted for my faith. (she sobbed). It was so shocking to be held against my will. It is frightening.“ I escaped, but still I am afraid to go home. Her husband is a U.S. Citizen and they have 5 children who cannot go to Japan to see their loved ones because of fear.
Rev. Jenkins, Chairman of ACLC said, “ACLC is totally committed to stop this violation of human rights. The State Department has investigated and confirmed that there is a lack of government action on the local level. Many Congressmen and Senators are now showing deep concern that an important ally such as Japan is not upholding the fundamentals of religious freedom and human rights. Mr. Dan Fefferman, President of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom briefed the Women In Ministry in preparation for the rally. He said, “There are currently several victims held right at this time. Ms. Fujita who was held against her faith and broken, tragically committed suicide in captivity – because no one would help from the police or her family. She lost all hope. Mr. Fefferman traced the human rights and religious persecution in Japan all the way back to an early Christian woman who suffered death and even family betrayal in Rome for their “new” faith. He also highlighted the egregious mistreatment of Mr. Toru Goto who was abused and held captive for 12 years and 5 months. Prosecutors have refused to prosecute when he pressed charges against the known criminals hired by his family."

ACLC Clergy and the women leaders of Women in Ministry have joined together with ACLC Presiding Prelate Rev. In Jin Moon in many visits to congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. The Women’s Federation leaders and the Ambassadors of Peace of UPF have also joined in. Dr. Luonne Rouse a New York pastor and Civil Rights leader supported the Philadelphia rally. He has already organized protests for ACLC at the Japanese Consulate in New York and is calling for a march to the embassy in Washington. He is saying let clergy before the Japanese Consulate in New York saying “We Shall Overcome.” Just as the women concluded their rally and began to march – good news came from Japan - one of the victims escaped to freedom !! One pastor said, “If we as women cry out about injustice, the walls of hate and oppression will come tumbling down.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Brainwashing and Religious Torture Accelerate in China

Gao Rongrong, in hospital after being tortured by Chinese security forces.

As uncovered in a series of internal Communist Party documents (some of them posted online) the Falun Gong remains the major target of Communist authorities in China with torture (including mental abuse) apparently accelerating throughout the country.

Details of the documents reveal a new three-year, multi-billion dollar campaign targeting Falun Gong practitioners across China.

The campaign’s stated goal is to "transform" 75 percent of all known practitioners, who number in the tens of millions despite eleven years of brutal suppression. Specifically, the campaign calls upon security forces to go into "villages and households" to "educate and conquer" Falun Gong practitioners.

Transformation—a euphemism for forcing practitioners to renounce Falun Gong and pledge allegiance to the Communist Party—has been at the core of the anti-Falun Gong campaign since its inception. As part of the
transformation process, individuals are typically subjected to physical and psychological torture. (report)

"What these documents call for is a campaign of surveillance, extralegal abductions, physical torture, and psychological abuse on a massive scale," says Falun Gong spokesman Erping Zhang. "The scenes playing out across China could be taken right out of Orwell’s 1984."

"When Chinese authorities talk of ‘transforming’ Falun Gong practitioners, what they mean is torturing out of people the aspiration to be honest, kind, and tolerant. They torment healthy, rational people to the point where the victim either betrays his or her most deeply held beliefs and completely submits to the will of the Communist Party, dies from abuse, or is driven to the edge of sanity. They push practitioners to the point where life is a living hell."

The Falun Dafa Information Center has obtained eight documents from various localities describing a campaign to intensify efforts to transform Falun Gong practitioners from 2010 to 2012. Seven of the documents are available online, while the eighth was obtained from an internal source whose identity and location cannot be revealed for fear of retribution.

Based on details in the documents, the campaign is a multi-billion dollar initiative. On one webpage from Xinglong township in Sichuan province, the instructions call for an increase in funding for transformation
efforts. The document states that “to transform one Falun Gong person costs on average 45,000 yuan [$6,750] nationwide, 40,900 yuan in Sichuan provice, in my township, 39,000 yuan.” Given that Falun Gong practitioners in China number from 20 to 40 million (demographics), the total cost reaches tens of billions of dollars.

Although all eight documents are from the level of county or below, there is little doubt that the instructions originated at the top echelons of the Communist Party. One document explicitly states that the campaign was initiated by the central 6-10 Office, an extralegal security force that has led the persecution of Falun Gong since 1999.

A timeline of Falun Gong abuse and persection as well as this latest report can be found online at The Falun Dafa Information Center here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

International Religious Freedom Day

Around the world (or at least somewhere) today it is observed as International Religious Freedom Day.
A Voice of America editorial states:
"But it takes far more than words on paper to make religious freedom a reality for all peoples of the world. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center [December 2009], an American think tank organization based in Washington, D.C., about one third of the countries in the world severely restrict their citizens' freedom of religion. Nearly 70 percent of the world's 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, and religious minorities are the most seriously affected.

But wait, there seems to be some confusion about when exactly this day was created and by whom.

Wikipedia has it as purportedly created to commemorate the Boston Martyrs, "three English members of the Society of Friends, Marmaduke Stephenson, William Robinson and Mary Dyer, and to the Friend William Leddra of Barbados, who were condemned to death and executed by public hanging for their religious beliefs under the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1659, 1660 and 1661."

And this organization (site) has it as being first created in 1959.

Perhaps it doesn't matter.

In any case, the congressional record of October 23, 2003 reads (in part):

Whereas October 27, 2003, marks the 5th anniversary of the signing of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (22 U.S.C. 6401 et seq.), creating the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Department of State and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and resulting in a greater awareness of religious persecution both in the United States and abroad; and
Whereas the United States recognizes the need for additional domestic and international attention and action to promote religious liberty: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate--
(1) designates October 27, 2003, as `International Religious Freedom Day'; and
(2) requests that the President issue a proclamation--

(A) calling for a renewed commitment to eliminating violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion and protecting fundamental human rights; and
(B) calling upon the people of the United States and interested groups and organizations to observe International Religious Freedom Day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

May the light of truth shine forth brightly, now and forevermore.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Capitol Hill Christian Roots

Received a link today from a friend:

David Barton, for those unaware, founded Wallbuilders, and makes those who profess and promote the wall of separation between church and state, cringe.

Certain misstatements, overstatements, turn of phrases aside, it might be fairly wonderful (and empowering) to see America (as a whole; if that's possible even) acknowledge the entirety of it's *rich* heritage and history more and more often (and not simply as Smithsonian Magazine did recently as noted October 3rd) here.)

This really shouldn't be a "right or left" issue, should it?

In any case, that's the bifurcated reality we find ourselves in at present.

Everyone seems to be stuck on their own side whether the subject is religion or politics.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Indonesia is not an Islamic state

An important statement by the Vice President of Indonesia, Boediono, Saturday at the opening of the Global Peace Leadership Conference, organized by Nahdlatul Ulama, a traditionalist Sunni Islam group:
"Although Islam is the religion of the majority of people, Indonesia is not an Islamic state," he said.
Meanwhile, it is noted, the President of Indonesia has himself never strongly addressed the issue of the nation's Islamic radicalism.

As Burhanuddin Muhtadi, an analyst from the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI), states it,
“He (President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) is too focused on his own image. He doesn’t want to be considered antagonistic toward Islamic hard-liners.”

The Religious Affairs minister is also chided by Ulil Abshar Abdalla,  founder of the Liberal Islam Network and a Democratic Party politician, for not coming to the defense of the minority Islamic sect, Ahmidiyah, which has been called upon for banishment in "several Islamic gatherings."

Read the full Jakarta Globe article here.

Ahamdiyah was almost banned 2 years ago and the "level of intolerance" has more than doubled during the six years of Yudhoyono’s rule according to results of a recent survey in this other Jakarta Globe report.

And why does it seem that messianic movements are always persecuted?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Messianic Shia sect under investigation in Egypt

Egypt's State Security Investigation Office has opened investigations into 12 Shia Muslim individuals from Egypt, Morocco, Iraq and Australia arrested in September on charges of "promoting Shia doctrines and disparaging Sunni doctrines and the prophet’s companions."

They were also charged with "falsifying" the Muslim holy book, the Quran.
Investigations have so far revealed that the men received funds from "several foreign countries."

Members of the Shia sect claim that one of their number, Ahmed Hassan al-Yamani, who is wanted by police, is the “Awaited Mahdi” or the expected messiah of the Shia faith.

They all confessed to not recognizing Prophet Muhammad's historical successors, who they claim were "elected by men"--with the exception of Ali bin Abi Taleb, who they say was "elected by God." They also reject much of the Hadith, or the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad.

Since the early 2000s, authorities have periodically arrested Egyptian Shia Muslims.

Read more here.

Shia and Sunni differences are fairly significant and go way back.

For something on the historical origins of the split within Islam go here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Religious Freedom in America

A piece in Smithsonian Magazine attempts to clarify while expounding on religious freedom in America, possibly in the name of "balance."

As writer, Kenneth C. Davis states it:

"The idea that the United States has always been a bastion of religious freedom is reassuring—and utterly at odds with the historical record."

Well, "the idea that the United States has always been a bastion of religious freedom" is simply false and absurd, too.

Religious freedom in America has been earned after much trial and error and continues as an example of a great work in progress.

The historical record is clear for those who care to delve into it fully.

But please, let us all be diligent in that.

Davis concludes with:
America can still be, as Madison perceived the nation in 1785, “an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion.” But recognizing that deep religious discord has been part of America’s social DNA is a healthy and necessary step. When we acknowledge that dark past, perhaps the nation will return to that “promised...lustre” of which Madison so grandiloquently wrote.
The Madison "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments" of 1785 (eight years before Jefferson's first draft of their arguably joint and monumental Statute on Religious Freedom) is worth a closer look here.

Meanwhile, Carl Pearlston, an attorney in the Los Angeles area today attempts to answer the question whether America can [still] be called a Christian nation.

In summary, he states:
"We live, not under a Christian government, but in a nation where all are free to practice their particular religion, in accommodation with other religions, and in accordance with the basic principles of the nation, which are Christian in origin. It is in that sense that America may properly be referred to as a Christian nation."
. . . ever onward and continuing

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Save the gay Saudi diplomat?

A Saudi diplomat, who is seeking political asylum (first reported on September 11th by NBC) in the United States, could very well face an extremely hostile and potentially life-threatening environment if he is returned to Saudi Arabia, cautions the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in a news release yesterday.

As Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair (understatedly) notes: "There is no tolerance for views or beliefs outside the official line [in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia]."

Ali Ahmad Asseri, the diplomat, happens also to be openly gay and has (reportedly) "befriended a Jewish woman."

Mr. Asseri, on his part, claims that the Saudi government terminated him from his job as first secretary at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles; refusing also to renew his diplomatic passport, because "he openly criticized the Saudi religious establishment on the Internet."

Whatever the facts, according to the U.S. Department of State, homosexuality is indeed punishable by "flogging or death" (and/or at least much abuse in prison) in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this year, USCIRF confirmed that textbooks posted on the Saudi Ministry of Education’s website "continue to teach hatred toward faiths and beliefs other than the Saudi government-backed version of Islam, and, in some cases, actually promote violence."

As Slate in an article from last September (cited by the most recent USCIRF report on Saudi Arabia) notes:
"In the 1960s and '70s, Wahhabism was fused with radical Egyptian salafism—a return to the way Islam was practiced in the first three centuries of its existence—when Saudi Arabia granted sanctuary to Egyptian firebrands escaping the wave of secular Arab nationalism in their home country.
Now, Wahhabi-salafis exert near-total control over the Saudi ministries of education and justice—and the religious police. Millions of teachers, judges, and sheiks constantly remind the public that the Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia is the only true Islam, and anyone who deviates from the faith is an unbeliever. In some cases, the thinking has gone, those unbelievers deserve to be punished."
So what's really going on here?

According to a report in Foreign Policy:
"Washington [therefore] faces an extremely serious dilemma. If it sends Asseri home, and he is killed, there will be outrage, not only in the United States but especially in Western Europe. On the other hand, if it grants him asylum, it will be opening the door for diplomats representing the majority of the world's states who may declare themselves gay and then seek asylum in America. That may not be a precedent that the United States wishes to set for itself, especially in light of the strong feelings over an issue that continues to divide the American electorate."

If religion were indeed the main concern here, 6 billion plus voices should be raised.

This is just slightly more complicated.

Seems that the USCIRF might just be grandstanding a bit with this one (September-November blues?), but surely, if any country deserves it . . .

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pope visit stirs up animal rights activists, too

A story on food and Sharia law hits the waves today via The Mail, Great Britain's conservative Sunday tabloid while The Pope makes his visit there:
"A Mail on Sunday investigation – which will alarm anyone concerned about animal cruelty – has revealed that schools, hospitals, pubs and famous sporting venues such as Ascot and Twickenham are controversially serving up meat slaughtered in accordance with strict Islamic law to unwitting members of the public. All the beef, chicken and lamb sold to fans at Wembley has secretly been prepared in accordance with sharia law, while Cheltenham College, which boasts of its ‘strong Christian ethos’, is one of several top public schools which also serves halal chicken to pupils without informing them."
Knocking animals out with a bolt gun, the usual action in British slaughter­houses, is expressly forbidden by sharia law. Instead, according to dhabiha, the prescribed method of Muslim ritual slaughter, animals must be sentient when their throats are cut; with the blood allowed to gush and drip out leaving negligible amounts of blood remaining in the body.

Similarities to Jewish dietary laws are likely, but only briefly noted.

Animal rights groups are decidedly beside themselves and their animal friends and see now as the right time to strike.

Read more here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Tweet and A Whimper

Turns out now that the original Terry Jones "threat" to burn Korans began with a few tweets on Twitter according to this piece from the "On Faith" column yesterday:
"On the afternoon of July 12, the Rev. Terry Jones fired off a series of messages on Twitter, decrying Islam as fascism and President Obama's support for a new Kenyan constitution that could permit abortion and codify Islamic law. His final one for the day said this: 9/11/2010 Int Burn a Koran Day."
While State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley notes that, "this is not the first time something like this has happened," the media and the Muslim world remain rightfully upset with the entire episode, particularly in light of the continuing contentiousness over the proposed Islamic center at Ground Zero in New York City.

Sincere concerns of a "fringe" believer or publicity stunt?

You decide.

In the meantime, doveworld.org (Terry Jones' site) seems to be getting a face lift.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Confronting Hate

According to an announcement on the Military Religious Freedom Foundation website:
"After being contacted by scores of our active duty military clients asking us to do something in response to Terry Jones’ planned “Burn A Koran Day,” MRFF has decided that the most appropriate response would not be to try to stop Jones, but to donate to the Afghan National Army, as a gesture of good will and a statement of opposition to this entirely un-American act of religious bigotry, a new Qur’an for each one destroyed by Jones and his followers. "
Meanwhile, as Pastor Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center before the press once again today stated, "We are not convinced that backing down is the right thing," an Imam from a local Florida Muslim group present, personally approached and urged him to do that very thing.

"I strongly believe at the end of the day he will make the right step and call off the event," said Muhammad Musri, head of the Islamic Society for Central Florida.

And in Washington, D.C., the Council on American-Islamic Relations has said that it will announce on Thursday an initiative, called "Learn, Don't Burn" [Not this one] that will distribute 200,000 Koran texts to replace the 200 copies that the Florida church plans to burn.

Hitchens on "Free Exercise"

Famed author, journalist and atheist Christopher Hitchens currently between lecture engagements and fighting esophageal cancer writes lucidly and provocatively on a subject ever near his heart - the future of human beings, particularly those of us who claim to love God.

As he sums up the current, growing fiasco known as the "Ground Zero Mosque Debate":
"Those who wish that there would be no mosques in America have already lost the argument: Globalization, no less than the promise of American liberty, mandates that the United States will have a Muslim population of some size. The only question, then, is what kind, or rather kinds, of Islam it will follow. There's an excellent chance of a healthy pluralist outcome, but it's very unlikely that this can happen unless, as with their predecessors on these shores, Muslims are compelled to abandon certain presumptions that are exclusive to themselves. The taming and domestication of religion is one of the unceasing chores of civilization. Those who pretend that we can skip this stage in the present case are deluding themselves and asking for trouble not just in the future but in the immediate present."

Hitchens (left) last night in Birmingham [Photo: Al.com]

Read the rest of Hitchen's important treatise published on Slate here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Rhodes: "Japanese authorities in collusion with criminals"

At the recent European Leadership Conference and Fact Finding Tour to Japan, international human rights expert Aaron Rhodes discussed human rights abuses taking place in Japan.

Mr. Rhodes, the former Executive Director for the International Helsinki Federation of Human Rights (closed after filing for bankruptcy), said the forced conversions and abductions of members of the Unification Church in Japan are in direct violation of United Nations human rights agreements.

"This is a nightmare," Mr. Rhodes said of the Japanese government, "because public authorities are in collusion with criminals."

Mr. Rhodes described the forced deprogramming of Unification Church members in Japan a violation of the most basic human rights, saying victims are coerced by physical force to change and present a confession.

Members of the audience were encouraged to contact the Asian Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) to pressure the Japanese government and embarrass them for their inactivity on abductions and forced conversions.

In 2009, the University of Chicago awarded Mr. Rhodes the prestigious Public Service Award. He is regarded as one of the world's leading human rights activists and is respected for his work on challenges in the Balkans, in Chechnya, and in Central Asia.

Mr. Rhodes rebuked Japan's judicial system for not acting independently but with prejudice against religious minorities – a grave indictment against a liberal democracy with an otherwise good record on human rights.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Exposing Japan's Human Rights Violations

A new website launched yesterday exposes human rights violations in Japan tied to abductions and forced conversions of religious minorities in Japan.

Forced conversions and abductions in Japan are a hidden human rights crime that denies people the fundamental right to worship freely.  The site, www.StopJapanAbductions.org  will pursue justice on behalf of victims and hold the government of Japan accountable for their failure to prosecute these crimes against humanity.

The new website hosts news articles and videos of kidnap victims, as well as a petition, calling on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission to hold Congressional hearings into Japan's violation of international human rights treaties.

The European Leadership Conference in a fact finding tour to Japan recently held a summit featuring world renowned human rights activists who attest to the abuses taking place in Japan.

According to human rights activist Aaron Rhodes: "This is a nightmare because public authorities [in Japan] are in collusion with criminals."

After many interviews with victims of religious abductions and forced conversions in Japan, Peter Zoehrer, a journalist in Europe, concluded:
  • Police in Japan often refuse to help victims of abduction and forced conversion
  • In some cases, police in Japan cooperate with the perpetrators
  • In several decades, not a single case has been prosecuted in Japan
  • Japanese civil courts treat the problem as a "family matter"
The website petition, from the International Coalition for Religious Freedom, calls on Congress to hold hearings before the end of the year about religious and human rights abuses taking place in Japan – one of America's great trading partners.  These hearings should be held by the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights, co-chaired by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).

Preserving Religious Hiring Rights

More than 100 religious organizations are urging members of Congress to reject pending legislation that would prohibit them from considering religion when hiring.

A letter – endorsed by such groups as World Vision, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, U.S. conference of Catholic Bishops, and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – was delivered Wednesday.

"The law has long protected the religious freedom of both the people who receive government-funded services, and the groups that provide the services – long before President Obama, and long before President Bush," said Anthony R. Picarello Jr., general counsel of USCCB, in a statement. "Stripping away the religious hiring rights of religious service providers violates the principle of religious freedom, and represents bad practice in the delivery of social services."

The groups are protesting a provision in HR 5466 – a bill introduced in the House in May that would reauthorize federal substance abuse treatment funding that is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Sponsored by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), the bill includes language banning faith-based groups from receiving federal funds if they consider religion in their hiring process.

The provision states: "With respect to any activity to be funded (in whole or in part) through an award of a grant, cooperative agreement, or contract under this title or any other statutory authority of the Administration, the Administrator, or the Director of the Center involved, as the case may be, may not make such an award unless the applicant agrees to refrain from considering religion or any profession of faith when making any employment decision regarding an individual who is or will be assigned to carry out any portion of the activity. This paragraph applies notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, including any exemption otherwise applicable to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society."

Though Kennedy has argued that faith-based hiring is discrimination, the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance says it is not discrimination, but rather a protection of the organizations' rights.

More from The Christian Post on this here.

And from the PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly back in May, read more here.

What do you think?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Memorial Service for Mrs. Takako Fujita

July 17, 2010
Mr. Luke Higuchi, President
Survivors Against Forced Exit

On the occasion of the U.S. memorial service for Mrs. Takako Fujita, I extend my heartfelt appreciation to all who have gathered to honor this holy martyr for religious freedom. Mrs. Fujita's death reminds us of the precious value of faith, which is more important, even than life itself. In honoring Mrs. Fujita we are reminded that she is not alone among the saints who chose to die rather than to deny their God. Many of the early Christian saints were persecuted to death not only by the Roman state, but by their own families. That is one reason why Jesus said, "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." As a Jew, I also recall the hundreds of Jewish martyrs at the fortress of Masada, who took their own lives rather than allowing themselves to be captured by Roman soldiers. These Christian and Jewish saints surely join with us in spirit today.

One of the most tragic aspects of Mrs. Fujita's case is that the government refused to investigate the criminal circumstances of her death. Literally thousands of Unificationists, Jehevoh's Witnesses and other minority groups have suffered as a result of the failure of the Japanese authorities to protect the human rights of religious believers. This situation must change. I am confident that from now own, the spirit of Mrs. Fujita will be able to freely assist us in own mutual efforts to secure the rights of religious believers in Japan who face the persecution of kidnapping, confinement, and faith-breaking.

Very best regards,
Dan Fefferman
International Coalition for Religious Freedom

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Suicide of a Kidnapped Japan UC Believer

This is disturbing on many levels though the "incident" itself happened just over 13 years ago.

Life of Ms. Takako Fujita (English Version)

Has no one in Japan ever heard of dialogue or even the logic of belief revision?

The Japanese attitude, both current and historical in regards to religious freedom as well as the total lack of a human rights tradition continues to perplex and damage the heart of the family of modern nations.

An Autumn/Winter 2000 paper by Tokihisa Sumimoto in the International Journal of Peace Studies seems to confirm this with its conclusion still being ominously transparent today:
"Religious freedom in Japan is being gradually but steadily eroded by a variety of different political and social forces. Because average citizens are indifferent to these issues, prospects for a reversal of this trend appear bleak. The absence of a cultural atmosphere conducive to religious liberty is simultaneously a result and a cause of Japan's underdeveloped civil liberty tradition. Furthermore, there have been few influential religious movements-with the exception of some minority organizations such as Soka Gakkai-or educational reform efforts promoting the ideal of independent moral judgment as opposed to the dominant tradition of submission to authority. Finally, the judicial independence needed to effectively oppose state encroachment on religious and civil liberties is largely undeveloped in the Japanese system.

The Japanese government has recently claimed that it is prepared to take on more responsibilities in the sphere of international security, and has indicated a willingness to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. However, the development of a mature democracy and a robust tradition of civil and religious liberty is a necessary prerequisite for recognition as a truly civilized, peace-loving country which can assume such responsibilities. Japan's stature as the world's second largest economy is not, in itself, sufficient qualification for such a role without corresponding achievements in the reform of its social and political culture."
Part 2 of Takako Fujita's story can be found here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Iran Baha’i leaders sentenced to 20 years

Seven Baha’i leaders who have been in prison for two years were sentenced to 20 years in prison by an Iranian court, according to Baha’i activists who spoke with the media.

The five Baha’i men and two women had been charged with several baseless and unsubstantiated crimes which carry the death penalty, including espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, and spreading “corruption on earth.” Their attorneys are in the process of filing an appeal.

“This is an outrageous miscarriage of justice and one more example of how the Iranian regime is a gross violator of human rights and religious freedoms,” said Leonard Leo, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) chair. “The prosecutions and sentences are, pure and simple, politically and religiously motivated acts, and the Commission calls for the unconditional release of these seven individuals.”

The Iran Sanctions Act, signed into law by President Obama roughly a month ago, for the first time imposes sanctions on Iran because it continues to engage in serious, systematic, and ongoing violations of human rights, including suppression of freedom of expression and religious freedom. USCIRF urges the Obama Administration to immediately implement sanctions on human rights and religious freedom violators included in the Iran Sanctions Act and urge our European and other allies to do the same.

The United States also should make use of another available and important tool, the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), to impose additional sanctions for the government of Iran’s violations of religious freedom or belief. Each year, since 1999, the State Department has designated Iran a “Country of Particular Concern,” or CPC, due to its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. As a CPC, Iran can be subjected to economic and other sanctions under the IRFA. Despite being designated a CPC for 10 years, no IRFA-related sanction has been imposed on Iran, with the U.S. government relying on existing sanctions already in place. USCIRF concludes that the rapidly deteriorating conditions for religious freedom justify specific, additional sanctions under IRFA.

“Sanctions against religious freedom violators signals the United States’ solidarity with the Iranian people and sends a stark message to the Iranian regime that it should end more than 30 years of repression,” said Mr. Leo.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Captive Capadocia

60 Minutes, the TV News magazine (made particularly infamous by Dan
Rathergate, etc.) had a very interesting report last evening on Turkey and the
dilemmas facing All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the
Orthodox Christian Church.

Rock-cut temple in Capadocia
Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the Orthodox Christian Church, feels
"crucified" living in Turkey under a government he says would like to see
his nearly 2,000-year-old Patriarchate die out. 

Bob Simon reports.

Read and watch more here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg on the Ground Zero mosque

August 3, 2010

New York City Mayor Bloomberg on the Landmarks Preservation Commission Vote regarding the planned Ground Zero mosque at 45-47 Park Place and religious freedom:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Burqa bans and benevolent balance

Popular Saudi cleric Sheik Aedh al-Garni stated recently, issuing a fatwā, that "it is permissible for Muslim women to reveal their faces in countries where the Islamic veil is banned to avoid harassment," while deploring the effort to outlaw the garment in France.

The Sheik's statement, delivered in response to a question from a Saudi woman in France, generated some opposition and outcry from those less benevolent and compromising. One cleric offered that it would simply be better for Muslim women to avoid traveling to such countries altogether; unless absolutely necessary.

Sheik al-Garni further said: "We should not confront people in their countries or elsewhere," according to the report in the Saudi-owned daily Al-Hayat. "In case a ban is enforced against a Muslim woman there - and as a consequence there is a reaction or negative implications or harassment or harm - it is better for the Muslim woman to reveal her face."

Shuttlecock burqas in Afghanistan

The fatwā comes two weeks after French lawmakers voted to ban the niqab, which covers all but a woman's eyes, and the burqa, which shields a woman's entire face and body.

"It is illogical and unreasonable that the French government undertakes such a thing, which is condemned by neutral people, not just Muslims, because the secular state assures freedom of religion. The state has to respect religious rituals and beliefs, including those of Muslims," Sheikh Ayedh al-Garni said.

France, Belgium and Spain are debating legislation that would ban the veil. Other nations in Europe too have struggled to balance national identities with growing Muslim populations with cultural practices that clash with their own.

Some secularists as well as those who argue that the veil is oppressive have applauded the movement for a ban. Others say it is a ploy to win over right-wing voters.

Our friend, Dr. Frank Kaufmann states the solution here, briefly as:

"Always make legislation uniform for all citizens, keep the laws clearly secular, and never favor or disadvantage a religious group overtly in how the laws are written."

Of course, that will not apply if religion in a particular nation is NOT separate from civic government and legislation.

Meanwhile, Muslim women in America are still more likely seen wearing a hijab which covers their hair and neck only while the face remains exposed. The hijab is usually accompanied by modest, loose-fitting clothing that covers the arms and legs.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Elevating sacred lands and religious freedom

Lobbying on Capitol Hill in America's capital city for whatever cause these days is very competitive. Perhaps it has always been so. The difference might be that not too long ago there were simply fewer people riding in cars, buses or SUVs, preoccupied with the information and cross-communication provided by various technological marvels feeding the growing largesse of material, bureaucratic (and information) overload.

A group of native American tribal leaders have recently been making the rounds on Capitol Hill decrying Congressional stonewalling on a legislative fix to a 2009 Supreme Court decision that has limited the federal government’s ability to take land into "trust for tribes."

Why is this so important and how does this really correlate with religious freedom?

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) states the reasoning concisely:
"Land is of great spiritual and cultural significance to Indian tribes, and many Indian communities are still reliant upon the land for subsistence through hunting, fishing, gathering or agriculture. Moreover, Indian lands are critical for the exercise of tribal self-governance and self-determination."
The Friends Committee (a Quaker Lobby) rephrases it with more emphasis on the essential religious freedom aspects:
Native American religions practiced today, as they have been for thousands of years, are land based. Sacred places, which can be a specific mountain, a waterfall, or a place where ancestors left petroglyphs are at the core of many native religions. These sacred sites are often the centerpiece of a tribe’s creation stories and oral histories, which are passed down through generations. The histories and the sacred places tie new generations to their ancestors and the land to form the central bonds of tribal culture and identity. Religious ceremonies and rituals conducted at spiritual sites, using natural tokens such as tobacco, peyote, sage, and eagle feathers celebrate the creator of the earth and are the essence of native spiritual expression.
Read more about this ongoing story here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Speech to Falun Gong at U.S. Capitol

Remarks by Mr. Dan Fefferman
President, International Coalition for Religious Freedom
July 22, 2010 – U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Dear Falun Gong practitioners and Friends of Religious Freedom,

We are gathered again this year at the US Capitol to express our concern for the outrageous violation of human rights against Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese government.

The treatment of Falun Gong by China is clearly one of the worst human rights violations in the world today. Even though Congress has spoken almost unanimously on this issue, the Obama Administration, like previous Administrations, has failed to press the government of China strongly enough to cause them to change their policy of using the most brutal means to suppress and destroy Falun Gong.

Mr. Dan Fefferman

My organization, the International Coalition for Religious Freedom, is supported largely by the worldwide Unification Church community, founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Reverend Moon himself faced a situation similar to what your members face today in China. Because his preaching rejected the evil, materialistic worldview of Marxism-Leninism, he was arrested during his ministry in North Korea just before the Korean War. He was brutally tortured in an effort to break his faith, just as your members are today.

Yet, he refused to stop his personal spiritual practices and continued to spread his message. As a result, he was arrested again and spent several years in a Communist death camp. He would have died there, but was liberated by UN Forces led by the United States. Ever since that time, he has strongly sympathized with all spiritual movements persecuted by Communist governments.

He also believes that the United States has a special mission from Heaven to lead the world in matters of religious freedom.

Because of this, I and my co-religionists are passionate in our support of Falun Gong. Throughout the world, Unificationists are praying in sympathy with you and your persecuted brothers and sisters in China. We believe they are today’s saints and martyrs. We especially honor those who have given their lives for this cause.

I’d also like to draw your attention to the suffering of Unification Church members today in Japan. There, the persecution is not carried out by the government directly, but by private citizens who kidnap our members and hold them against their will in an effort to break their faith through what the Communists call "re-education," but what is commonly called "deprogramming" in the West.

More than 4,300 Unificationists have suffered in this way, but the Japanese government does nothing to stop these crimes.

So, Dear Falun Gong practitioners, I hope you sense the common suffering which our two communities are experiencing. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught that "suffering for a righteous cause is redemptive."

Even though sometimes it seems like the night will never end, the sun always rises in the morning. I believe that morning is coming for Falun Gong in China.

When it does, I will join with you in welcoming it. In the meantime, let us all redouble our efforts to work together for the religious freedom of all people, throughout the world, whatever their faith may be.

Thank you.

The Epoch Times report (in Chinese) is here and (in English) here.

Farewell Archbishop Tutu

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has announced that he is withdrawing from public life.

The former archbishop played a prominent role in South Africa's struggle against the whites-only apartheid system.

After his 79th birthday in October, he stated that he would reduce his workload to one day a week until the end of February 2011 before retiring.

That work would be devoted to The Elders, a group appointed by former President Nelson Mandela to tackle the world's most pressing problems.

During the 27 years that Mr Mandela was in prison, Archbishop Tutu spoke out against apartheid - and won the Nobel peace prize in 1984 for his efforts.

He was chosen by Mr Mandela to chair South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and investigate the crimes committed by all sides during the apartheid regime.
"My involvement with the Elders and Nobel Laureate Group will continue, as will my support for the development of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town.

"But I will step down from my positions at the University of the Western Cape, the UN Advisory Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, among others, will be reviewing the list of organisations in which I am involved as Patron, and will no longer be available for media interviews.

"As Madiba [Nelson Mandela] said on his retirement: Don’t call me; I’ll call you.

"I have been very, very fortunate to have been given opportunities to contribute in a small way to develop our new, democratic, exhilarating and sometimes exasperating nation," he said. "The time has come to slow down.

"I retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996. Then I retired again, after completion of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But my mission determined that I continue to work, and my schedule has grown increasingly punishing over the years.

"Instead of growing old gracefully, at home with my family – reading and writing and praying and thinking – too much of my time has been spent at airports and in hotels."

Archbishop Tutu spoke at several events during the recent football World Cup in South Africa.  One of his last public statements, noted by the press on June 16, therefore, might just be: “The vuvuzela is part of our culture. We cannot separate them from the soccer fever.”

Meanwhile, the English clubs have banned the South African cultural icon from all British football stadiums in the upcoming season leaving the work of world vuvuzela freedom to others; perhaps even, future generations?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ground Zero, Sharia and Religious Freedom

Examiner contributor Dianna Narciso gets into this important topic in the news offering a "rational" perspective here.

Newt Gingrich offers his here.

"Stop Islamization" activist (including, Sarah Palin) objections (refutations) are duly noted here.

Meanwhile, The Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman offers his subjective insights and comments on the matter here.

If Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court is stopped, some believe that will solve the problem as noted here.

As usual lately, the folks at The Washington Post blog "On Faith" seem to cut right to the heart of the matter.

Director of International Operations at the American Center for Law and Justice and human rights attorney Jordan Sekulow writes here:

"If American Muslims truly wanted to build a center devoted to peace and understanding, why would they back a radical Imam who is committed to bringing Shariah law to the United States?"

A voice of moderation with an appeal to the American pluralist conscience comes from Michael Ghouse in The Huffington Post here.

He writes in part:

"[I] urge the passionate neocons to become ambassadors of peace in mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill. It will not make them as much money, but they will be able to sleep in peace. We all need to work for a safe and prosperous America with a focus on social cohesion and removing the division and wedges between us."

As the real William Shakespeare wrote once upon a time:

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."
The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

Who can refute that?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Freedom of Worship in North Korea

A Baptist preacher and some others made some ethical points on North Korea recently.
"Americans may have limited knowledge of the details of North Korea's extreme repression of its people, but they know enough to bear responsibility if they do not take action," said Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land.
Speaking at a Washington news conference sponsored by the Korean Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called for Americans and their government to accept responsibility for aiding citizens of the Asian dictatorship.
"We may not know the precise numbers, but we know [the atrocities exist]....
If we know what's going on, and we choose to do nothing, then we become morally culpable, we become complicit," Land said.

Michael Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a longtime advocate for religious freedom, said the key to bringing change lies with the Korean Americans, not with the U.S. government or the United Nations (U.N.).

"[W]hat I have learned about America living in Washington is that when Americans speak out for their brothers and sisters in their home country, the rest of America always listen, always," Horowitz told the audience, which was dominated by Korean Americans.
"In America, you earn respect not by the wealth you have and the money you get,but by standing up for others. There has not been enough of that...from the Korean American community."
"You have more power than you understand, and American history teaches you that."
The U.S. policy on North Korea "is a disgrace" under President Obama and was under President Bush.
"Our policy is very simple: Kim Jong Il, if you promise not to have more weapons, we'll give you money. If you promise not to use your weapons, we'll make you legitimate," Horowitz said.

Read more here.

If there is any nation in the world where the limitation of a policy extolling the virtues of freedom of religious worship over religious freedom becomes clear, it might just be North Korea.

 Dear Leader Worship

Friday, July 16, 2010

Muslim Veil Contrasts

As France's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on burka-like Islamic veils this week, a survey conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project found previously that while a majority of Europeans back such a ban most Americans would (currently) reject such a ban in their nation.

Majorities in Germany (71 percent), Britain (62 percent) and Spain (59 percent) noted that they, too, would support a burqa ban in their own countries.

But in the United States, the opposite was true, with two-thirds of Americans saying they were against a ban on full veils in public.

Opinions about banning Muslim women from wearing a full veil did not vary along gender lines in any of the five countries where the question was asked.

Pew asked 1,002 people in the United States, 750 each in Britain, France and Germany and 755 in Spain about how they felt about a burqa ban, as part of its Global Attitudes Survey.

The French ban on face-covering veils will move in September to the Senate, where it also is likely to pass.  France's constitutional council will then scrutinize it. Some legal scholars believe that there is a chance the ban could be deemed unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the main body representing French Muslims says face-covering veils are not required by Islam and not suitable in France, but it worries that the law will stigmatize Muslims in general.

France has Europe's largest Muslim population, estimated to be about five million of the country's 64 million people. While ordinary headscarves are common, only about 1,900 women in France are believed to wear face-covering veils. Champions of the bill say the veils oppress women.

With the proposed ban, the government also is seeking to insist that integration is the only path for immigrant minorities. But at what cost? Is freedom of religion the issue here or something else?

France has had difficulty integrating generations of immigrants and their children, since at least 2005, when weeks of rioting by (mostly minority) youths in troubled neighborhoods revealed the soft underbelly of religious and ethnic division.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Conversion bill dismays US senators

A US senator has taken the rare step of drafting a letter expressing concern about Israel’s pending conversion legislation, underscoring the wide dismay the bill has triggered in the American Jewish community.

The letter from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), understood to be addressed to Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, outlines apprehensions over the bill’s language, according to sources familiar with the text. It is circulating for signatures from additional Jewish senators before being delivered to the embassy.

Caley Gray, communications director for Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), one of the senators signing the letter, explained that “Senator Lautenberg hopes the Knesset does not pass this legislation, which he views as divisive.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D- Michigan), who met with concerned American Jewish officials Tuesday, said, "I am troubled by a proposal which I believe would make it more difficult for many people who want to convert to Judaism to do so."

Oren is also expected to receive an earful on the subject when he talks with several Jewish members of Congress Thursday at a meeting originally scheduled to follow up on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent visit.

“Israel should continue to be a welcoming place for Jews, as it has been through its history,” said Matt Dennis, communications director for Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York), characterizing her thinking. “She is concerned that this bill would alienate Jews around the world and risk weakening the sense of unity within the Diaspora that is critical to Israel’s security.”

“This is an Israeli government policy decision, but there are implications for American Jews.

Friday, June 25, 2010

US Policy Remains on Sidelines

It appears that the policy Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom designate Suzan Johnson Cook has been nominated to lead is being sidelined even before she takes the job. The Obama administration seems to have decided that other policy initiatives -- outreach to Muslim governments, obtaining China's cooperation, advancing gay rights -- would be compromised by vigorous advocacy for religious freedom. In fact, such a decision would harm the victims of religious persecution, hamstring key Obama initiatives and undermine U.S. national interests.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Iran rejects UN on Baha’i Rights

The Baha’i International Community expressed its deep disappointment with Iran’s refusal to adopt recommendations made by the UN during Iran’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Iran’s Secretary General of the High Council for Human Rights, Mohammad Javad Larijani, brazenly rejected a number of the council’s key human rights concerns and accused the Baha’i International Community of acting on behalf of Western powers.

“We are deeply disturbed by the Iranian government’s refusal to accept basic recommendations concerned with ending injustice, persecution and discrimination in that country,” a representative of the Baha’i International Community said at the meeting.

The UPR recommendations aimed to end discrimination against Baha’is and the Iranian government’s repression of the community, among many other recommendations about human rights in Iran. Specifically, the council called on Iran’s government to do away with policies restricting Baha’i access to universities and official lists barring Baha’is from pursuing twenty five different professions.

Despite the statements of 26 states urging Iran to account for their human rights violations against the Baha’i community, Larijani flatly denied many of the allegations. “Baha’is enjoy full civil and citizenship right[s] in Iran… The government is supporting all of their economic activity. They go to school, they go to universities …I can name for you more than 200 students at universities,” he told the council on June 10th.

The findings of the Human Rights Watch would suggest otherwise.

One Human Rights Watch report detailed how the Iranian government had denied some 800 students access to their school transcripts. The students had logged onto their student accounts only to be informed that their transcript was “incomplete.” Students complained that school officials had ignored their efforts to address the issue.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cook Named Ambassador for Religious Freedom

President Obama has announced his intent to appoint Suzan Johnson Cook, as Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom, Department of State.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the following statement regarding the nomination:
"I welcome the nomination of Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook to be Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Dr. Johnson Cook is an experienced religious leader with a passion for human rights and an impressive record of public service. President Obama could not have found a more fitting choice for this important position. I look forward to working with Dr. Johnson Cook, if she is confirmed, to bring greater focus to international efforts to ensure that people everywhere enjoy the global standards of religious freedom enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She will serve as a principal advisor on religious freedom to me and to the President, and she will be supported by the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor."
Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook is the Founder and President of Wisdom Worldwide Center. She has also served as the Senior Pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in New York City since 1996 and the owner of Charisma Speakers since 2008. Prior to that she was co-Partner/Owner of Jonco Productions from 1994-2009. Dr. Johnson Cook has also held the position of Chaplain to the New York City Police Department since 1990. Dr. Johnson Cook is a Founder/Board Member of the Multi-Ethnic Center and has been the Executive Director since 1996. From 1983-1996, she served as Senior Pastor to the Mariners Temple Baptist Church. Prior to that she was a professor at the New York Theological Seminary from 1988-1996.  Dr. Johnson Cook holds a B.S. from Emerson College, Master of Arts from Columbia University, Teachers College, Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, and Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Church Intervenes for Political Dissident

Cuba is to release a jailed paraplegic political dissident as a result of talks between the Catholic Church and President Raul Castro, the office of the Archbishop of Havana said.

The dissident, Ariel Sigler Amaya, 46, has been in prison since 2003.
Six other dissidents will also be moved to jails in their home provinces on Saturday to be closer to their relatives as a result of the talks, the archbishop's office said in a statement.

Cuban authorities told Cardinal Jaime Ortega that Sigler, sentenced to 20 years prison and currently in a Havana hospital, would be given license to leave prison.

Sigler and the other six prisoners are part of a group of 73 political dissidents picked up in a government crackdown in March 2003. Of the original group, 53 remain behind bars, including Sigler and the other six.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Commission to hold hearing in Morocco

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which is co-chaired by congressmen James McGovern (D - MA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA), will hold a hearing on human rights and religious freedom in Morocco on Thursday June 17th, 2010.

The hearing will be open to the press and the public. The reason for the hearings, according to the commission, is the deportation of approximately 40 American citizens and scores of other foreign nationals on charges of proselytism, thus “it has raised serious concerns about the status of religious freedom in Morocco”.
The individuals deported, according to a statement from the commission, ran a wide array of humanitarian organizations, which provided services vital to the community. One of the organizations targeted was the Village of Hope, an orphanage that takes in children that have been abandoned by their parents.
A statement from the commission cited an article by Time Magazine that said, “The Village of Hope deportations are part of what appears to be a widespread crackdown on Christian aid workers in Morocco.” 

Also cited, as an example is the Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World Report, which noted “a backsliding in Morocco on a host of other democracy and human rights issues over the course of the last year”.

Religious Freedom and National Security

Thomas Farr of The Washington Post blog, "On Faith" muses on the relationship between religious freedom and national security again.

He notes that:
"In a previous post, I voiced the fear that the Obama administration was placing U.S. international religious freedom (IRF) policy on the back burner, subordinating it to other less compelling administration priorities, or clearing the deck for initiatives that might be complicated by a robust defense of religious liberty abroad (such as outreach to Muslim majority countries or promoting international gay rights).
If it is true that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are backtracking on IRF, it would be somewhat ironic. The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, passed unanimously by Congress, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It was implemented in the early stages by Secretary Madeleine Albright, who has since written a book calling for greater attention to religion in American foreign policy.
Moreover, as William Saunders and I observed in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, the Bush administration "did not make significant progress in reducing religious persecution or advancing religious freedom" during its eight years in power. If anything, international religious freedom declined under President Bush's watch, and President Obama was left with a real opportunity. In January 2009 IRF supporters were hopeful that the new administration would retool and reenergize U.S. religious freedom diplomacy.
But in the ensuing 16 months the administration has for the most part signaled its indifference to the issue."