U.S. isn't just turning a blind eye to Saudi religious violations—it's part of it, says report
The death toll in Monday night's car bombing attacks in Saudi Arabia has risen to 34, but the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said yesterday that the attacks "may be portents of things to come" unless the American and Saudi Arabian governments get serious about religious freedom in that country.
In issuing its fourth annual report yesterday, the USCIRF drew special attention to Saudi Arabia. It's the world's top violator of religious freedom, the panel said, but the State Department has refused to name it a "country of particular concern" as it did with China, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, North Korea, and Sudan.
"Saudi Arabia is a uniquely repressive case where the government forcefully and almost completely limits the public practice or expression of religion to one interpretation: a narrow and puritanical version of Islam based on the Wahhabi doctrine," says the commission's report. "Consequently, those Saudis and foreign contract workers who do not adhere to the Saudi government's interpretation of Islam are subject to severe religious freedom violations." Followers of other religions—even of other forms of Islam—are detained, imprisoned, and tortured, the report says.
"These are not idiosyncratic American perceptions of religious freedom," said USCIRF vice-chair Michael Young. "We don't understand how one could not name Saudi Arabia as a CPC. Saudi Arabia has been explicitly left out of any [State Department] citations."
At yesterday's press conference, chairman Felice Gaer was forceful: "It's time to apply the same standards to Saudi Arabia that are applied elsewhere," she said.
And there's no time like the present, added Young, who is dean of the George Washington University Law School. "The stars are aligning to make the timing right on this," he said "As there has been more and more scrutiny on what has happened within the country, [the Saudi government itself] has begun to be more sensitive to the international expression of concern."
But not pressuring the Saudi government is just one of the ways the U.S. is being complicit in terror against the country's religious minorities, says the commission. There are reports that U.S. businesses are themselves engaging "in practices that constitute or facilitate discrimination or violations of religious freedom or other human rights."
Saudi Arabia received the brunt of the commission's criticisms yesterday, but the report details what the commission has tried to do about oppression in several other countries, with Afghanistan, Belarus, Russia, and Vietnam receiving special reports.
"The groundwork is being laid in Afghanistan for a government almost as repressive as the Taliban," commission member Leila Sadat said. But commissioners are having difficulty investigating claims of torture and mass deaths thanks to "a brick wall" from the U.S. government. "We don't even have a copy of the [proposed Afghan] constitution," Sadat complained.
The issue in these countries—including Iraq—isn't the separation of church and state, said Richard Land, a commissioner and Southern Baptist leader. "If a country wants to give preference, if the citizens of that country decide they want to give preference to a particular religion, they have the right to decide to do that," he said. "What they don't have the right to do is to say we will then punish you, discriminate against you, persecute you or kill you if you change from that religion or if you choose to be of another faith and want to express that faith."
Our earlier coverage of persecution in Saudi Arabia and what the U.S. should do about it includes:
- Flogged and Deported | What you can do to help persecuted Christians in Saudi Arabia (May 7, 2002)
- How to Confront a Theocracy | The most effective way to address human rights in Saudi Arabia may be to let Muhammad do the talking (Jeff M. Sellers, July 3, 2002)
- Speaking Out: The USCIRF Is Only Cursing the Darkness | The increasingly irrelevant U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom seems intent on attacking even those countries making improvements (Robert A. Seiple, Oct. 16, 2002)
- Speaking Out: USCIRF's Concern Is To Help All Religious Freedom Victims | The chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom responds to Robert Seiple's claims that it is "only cursing the darkness." (Felice Gaer, Nov. 7, 2002)
- Cry Freedom | Forget "quiet diplomacy"—it doesn't work (Michael Horowitz, Feb. 26, 2003)
- Full of Sound & Fury | Polemics at home and abroad does not prevent religious persecution. (T. Jeremy Gunn, Feb. 27, 2003)
- We Must Never Be Silent About Suffering | The CT religious rights debate continues (Michael Horowitz, Apr. 7, 2003)
- Diplomacy, Not Denunciation, Saves Lives | The CT religious rights debate concludes (T. Jeremy Gunn, Apr. 8, 2003)
A Yemeni court was bombed today, leaving a judge and three others injured. It's the same court where Abed Abdul Razak Kamel was sentenced to death Saturday for killing three Southern Baptist missionaries in late December, but the harmed judge wasn't the one who passed sentence. Police have a suspect who has reportedly confessed, It's not certain that the courtroom attack is directly related to Kamel's sentencing.
"The Commission has grown increasingly concerned about abuses of religious freedom in India," says yesterday's report. Now it has one more reason to be concerned. A group of 10 to 15 youths attacked a Christian meeting in Dharwad, injuring at least two. As is common in an increasingly militant Hindu state, the Christians are being portrayed as the villains in the story.
- The spiritual "Matrix" | Perhaps the most pertinent references are to Gnosticism (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
- Also: How deep does the lie go? | Like the rabbit hole in 'Alice in Wonderland,' the virtual world of 'The Matrix' is again set to trap audiences in a web of unreality (The Indianapolis Star)
- Also: Forget sci-fi and guns - The Matrix is really about religion (BBC)
- Also: Sci-fi offerings prey on our fears but offer a sort of religious hope, too (The State, S.C.)
- God is still ready for his close-up | God is not dead in Hollywood, but he's been feeling awfully funny lately (The New York Times)
Canadian religious belief:
- Our religious beliefs: less formal, more diverse | Catholicism still leads, but the number of non-Christian adherents is growing sharply (Vancouver Sun)
- Canada has 20,000 Jedis: Census (CBC)
- Canadians losing their religion | 16% of population say they have no religious affiliation (The National Post, Canada)
- Christians dominate New Brunswick's religious fabric (Saint John Telegraph-Journal)
- Religion on the rise in B.C., survey shows (Vancouver Sun)
- Atheism growing across Canada, StatsCan shows | One in six declare themselves as without a religion (The Toronto Star)
Church arsenic poisoning case:
- Funeral held for man linked to poisonings | The police report no new developments as they continue to investigate (Portland Press Herald)
- Suspicions run high in ongoing Maine poison probe | "When there isn't an answer, speculation runs wild and everybody can be considered a suspect," says church leader (Boston Herald)
- Maine community stunned in poisoning case | Suspect's family part of community, church since its founding (Associated Press)
- 'A very stoic group' | "In New Sweden we don't have anything except people and three churches, I guess," says local farmer (Portland Press Herald)
- Church poisoning spurs question: Is no place safe? (Portland Press Herald)
Interfaith and ecumenical relations:
- Toning down whose rhetoric | The most incendiary language is not coming from Christian leaders in this country, but from Muslim clergy overseas and occasionally from Muslim pulpits and schools in the United States (Cal Thomas)
- 'Call us peaceful, or you die' | Disrespectful though the remarks of Messrs. Graham, Falwell and Robertson may be, they're mild compared with the usual descriptions of Judaism and Christianity heard in almost any mosque on almost any Friday (Wesley Pruden, The Washington Times)
- Faith leaders try to revive alliance | Group wants to combat influence of conservative religious groups (The Orlando Sentinel)
- Ministers help explain Baptist beliefs | Timothy George answers questions from others on how to become engaged with fellow Christians (Savannah Morning News)
Church and state:
- Has justice got a prayer? | Complaining about religions in the courtroom isn't a small point (Jimmy Breslin, Newsday)
- Suit filed over Tenn. school crusade | Union County officials say the system is neutral when it comes to religious activities, pointing out that the crusade is voluntary, teachers chaperone on their own time, and school buses are operated by private contractors (Associated Press)
- Faith-based battle | Can America have a partnership between federal agencies and religious groups that harnesses the promise of faith-based action without the government sponsoring religious doctrine, coercing its citizens or otherwise endorsing religion? (Editorial, The Washington Post)
- Faith-based foster care stirs debate | Florida Department of Children and Families officials say Place of Hope is a rare success story in a difficult field and a badly needed addition to a county that never has enough foster homes. But some are unnerved that Place of Hope is using tax money to teach Christian theology to state foster children (Palm Beach Post, Fla.)
- State ponders religious holidays | Teachers have asked the government to review all public holidays of a religious nature (The Star, South Africa)
- Christianity in schools at risk, says pastor | Pastor Alastair Simmons said he fears a consultation into religious observance for pupils is being hijacked by people with their own agenda (The Herald, Glasgow, Scotland)
Politics and law:
- Pressure groups mixed response to Short resignation | The resignation of Britain's International Development Secretary has elicited a mixed response from Christian pressure groups (Ekklesia, U.K.)
- Sunday shopping has its pros, cons | Gov. Sinner signed blue laws into history 12 years ago (Associated Press)
- Bishop plays waiting game | The rumor circulating in Washington is that Lloyd Ogilvie may step back into his job as Senate chaplain (Diane Bell, The San Diego Union-Tribune)
- Senate to take up global AIDS bill | Focus on the Family calls for support of bill that passed House (Family News in Focus)
Missions and ministry:
- Church leader visits N.C. | Fahed Abu-Akel said Sunday that he looks forward to sleeping in his own house again, but he has enjoyed traveling the country and the world as an ambassador of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (Fayetteville Observer, N.C.)
- Teen Light Shows Christian Way | Bi-monthly Christian magazine is edited by teens for teens (The Daily Record, Dunn, N.C.)
- Church reaches out to skateboarders | Another church opens a skate park (Grand Haven [Mich.] Tribune)
- U.S. missionary said to ship arms to Haiti | Government alleges a plot (The Miami Herald)
- Boom year for Salvation Army | This small evangelical denomination has assisted more than 42 million people during the fiscal year 2002 (UPI)
- California native walking cross-country for God | This is the eighth time Chuck Johnson has walked across the nation carrying a cross (The News-Enterprise, Hardin County, Ky.)
- A call to all Christians | Pastor takes to the streets, seeking an end to violence (The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y.)
- On a mission | Their presence is sometimes unwelcome as well as illegal, but Christian evangelists proselytizing in Muslim countries say they are there to relieve suffering as much as to win converts (Newsday)
- Aid vs. evangelism | Some say Christian missionaries to Iraq should provide food, but not force-feed their message (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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