In October 1998, evangelicals and other religious groups cheered as President Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act, a measure designed to put the federal government's muscle behind efforts to secure robust religious liberty worldwide.
Eleven years later, as President Obama's administration nears the start of its second year in office, worrisome signs suggest that religious freedom is not a high priority for the President and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "The administration's signals have been at best mixed on the issue of religious freedom," Thomas Farr, director of the Office of International Religious Freedom under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, told Christianity Today.
In February, Secretary Clinton met with top Chinese government leaders. When the news media asked if she had raised questions about their human rights record, she replied, "We know what they are going to say, because I've had those kinds of conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders. We have to continue to press them. But our pressing them can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis."
While Clinton deserves praise for naming a special representative to Muslim communities, she and President Obama have not named a new ambassador at large for international religious freedom, something the law explicitly requires. Most experts agree that interventions by the two previous ambassadors, Robert Seiple and John Hanford, each saved the lives of dozens of endangered religious leaders. There is no shortage of Christian pastors and other leaders unjustly imprisoned in China, Eritrea, Laos, and elsewhere. Their lives hang in the balance.
More mixed signals are coming ...