An unprecedented 83-page report issued by the State Depart-ment July 22 outlines religious persecution—especially against Christians—in 78 countries.

"To have official recognition that there is persecution of Christians is a milestone," Nina Shea, director of the Freedom House Puebla Program on Religious Freedom, told CT. "Until now, the foreign policy bureaucracy has been tone-deaf to the issue of religious persecution, particularly as it pertains to Christians."

Shea, a Catholic, is one of the 20 members of the State Department's Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad that formed last year (CT, Nov. 11, 1996, p. 98). Shea says the report "signals to the public at large that religious persecution is an urgent and legitimate human-rights concern."

The panel includes religious, academic, and advocacy leaders of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic backgrounds. Even though a minority on the committee are Christians, the report emphasizes Christian persecution because of a directive from both houses of Congress, which last year passed resolutions condemning the "egregious human rights abuses and denials of religious liberty to Christians around the world."

Much of the push for a Christian bent in the details came from panel member Don Argue, who is president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Argue cochairs the religious-persecution subcommittee of the State Department panel.

Argue says the report has been forwarded to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Clinton, who will determine formation of U.S. policy.

The study includes countries regularly cited by human-rights groups as religious-liberty oppressors due to extremist Islamic or Communist governments. Those ...

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