Clinton defends religious liberty -- abroad

BY TERRY MATTINGLY Modified: August 20, 2012 at 2:31 pm •  Published: August 20, 2012
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The U.S. State Department wasn't surprised last October when Egyptian security forces smashed into flocks of demonstrators outside the state Radio and Television Building, killing 25 and injuring hundreds.

After all, the rally was called to protest the government's failure to stop the burning of Coptic Orthodox churches or to arrest and convict leaders of the mobs. Sure enough, waves of thugs attacked the Copts, starting riots that drew deadly police vehicles.

Once again, it didn't shock State Department insiders that no one was held accountable. Coptic Christians and other religious minorities continue to live in fear.

Similar tragedies have been sadly predictable in the past, but that must change if true democracy is going to come to Egypt and other lands struggling to escape centuries of strife, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in remarks marking the recent release of the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report.

"Egyptians are building a brand new democracy," said Clinton, describing her recent visit there. "As I told the Christians with whom I met, the United States does not take the side of one political party over another. What we do is stand firmly on the side of principles. Yes, we do support democracy -- real democracy, where every citizen has the right to live, work and worship how they choose. ...

"We are prepared to work with the leaders that the Egyptian people choose. But our engagement with those leaders will be based on their commitment to universal human rights and universal democratic principles."

The "sobering" reality, she stressed, is that religious freedom is "sliding backwards" worldwide, with more than a billion people living under regimes that deny them freedom of speech, association and liberty on matters of faith. The State Department once again released its familiar list of notorious "countries of particular concern" -- Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

This latest report is packed with telling details that are hard to ignore, said Thomas Farr, director of Georgetown University's Project on Religious Freedom. He served as the first director of the State Department office on international religious freedom.

The problem is that America's ambassador at large for international religious freedom has "little authority, few resources and a bureaucracy that is -- notwithstanding the secretary's fine words -- largely indifferent" to the global state of religious freedom, noted Farr, in remarks posted at National Review Online. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that this issue is not a priority for this administration, except perhaps for the speechwriters (who are doing an outstanding job)."

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