Bahai News - U.S. to World: Practice What We Preach on Religion
Tuesday September 5 2:40 PM ET
U.S. to World: Practice What We Preach on Religion
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday told the world to
heed its founding fathers who saw religious freedom as a key to democracy,
blasting China, Sudan and Afghanistan among others it found guilty of
restricting expression of faith.
In its second report on how free people are to practice their beliefs in
194 states, the State Department also rebuked some of its allies including
Saudi Arabia, Germany and France.
Beijing's crackdown on Falun Gong spiritual practitioners provoked
some of the harshest criticism in the report, mandated by Congress
under a 1998 law which gave the U.S. government a variety of punishment
options, including sanctions.
Last year the U.S. government chose not to impose additional sanctions
on countries it designated as being of particular concern for their
religious tolerance -- China, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar and Sudan.
This year U.S. officials say they do not expect any significant change
in that list, which last year was announced about a month after the
religious freedom report.
Afghanistan's ``ultraconservative'' Taliban leadership severely
restricted religious freedom, the report said.
In Sudan, the government treated Islam as a state religion and
restricted non-Muslims. Khartoum and its allies conducted
indiscriminate bombings and other abuses in a civil war with
rebels in the mainly Christian or animist south, it said.
In Iran, Baha'is, Jews, Christians and Sufi Muslims reported imprisonment
and other acts of harassment. Conversion from Islam could be punishable
by death, the report said.
In Iraq, where the Sunni Arabs minority dominates over the Shia'a Arab
majority, the report cited several incidents in 1999 of security forces
killing and injuring congregants protesting closures of Shi'a mosques.
Rulers of Myanmar, or Burma as it was known before a military coup and
is still known by the U.S. government, presided over laws which allowed
for restrictions on religious freedom. Authorities repressed efforts
by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom, it
U.S. Preaches Religious Freedom As Key To Democracy
Citing the United States as an example of how religions should be
allowed to flourish, the report said: ``Today, at the dawn of the third
millennium, religions are flourishing in the United States, their
respective traditions enriching not only their own adherents, but
American public policy as well.''
Religious freedom was the first one listed in the U.S. Bill of Rights
-- ``a reflection of the founders' belief that freedom of religion
and conscience is the cornerstone of liberty'' as the report put it.
Some of the hundreds of pages of text concentrated on states the U.S.
government says do not fulfill a covenant signed by 144 nations
acknowledging the right to ``have or to adopt a religion or belief of
It accused Germany of encouraging discrimination against members of the
Church of Scientology, which enjoys tax-free status in the United States.
Some German officials believed Scientology was a money-making scheme
rather than a religion and government procedures sometimes screened out
its members, it said.
In France, a 1996 law labeling 173 groups as sects included
organizations which were ``merely unfamiliar or unpopular,'' some of
whose members continued to allege discrimination, it added.
The U.S. government did not analyze how religious freedom was respected
at home, though it acknowledged followers of Mormonism, Jehovah's
Witnesses, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and indigenous American
religions had been persecuted in the past.
In February, a French government mission accused Washington of being too
lax on cults and unfairly blaming France for its harsher stance.
©Copyright 2000, Reuters
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