Showing Real Concern

Five years ago, Congress passed -- with a lot of support from BreakPoint listeners and readers -- the International Religious Freedom Act. The act's goal was to "strengthen United States advocacy on behalf of individuals persecuted in foreign countries on account of religion." To implement this goal, the act created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, or CIRF. Every year, the CIRF issues reports to Congress and the president on the state of religious freedom around the world and shines the spotlight on the worst offenders against this basic human right. From its inception, the Commission has paid close attention to the situation in Saudi Arabia. In August 2001, Saudi Arabia was designated one of the nine worst religious-freedom violators in the world, along with countries like Iran, China, North Korea, and Sudan. Nothing has changed since then. In its most recent report, the Commission recommended that Saudi Arabia be designated a "country of particular concern." These are countries that either engage in or tolerate "particularly severe violations of religious freedom" that are "systematic, ongoing, and egregious." All of this describes Saudi Arabia perfectly. In the kingdom, the only religion that may be openly practiced is Wahhabi Islam. And this restriction isn't limited to Saudi nationals. American military and diplomatic personnel find their freedom to practice their religion severely limited. And there are reports "that some U.S. companies in Saudi Arabia engage in practices" that violate the religious freedom of their employees in order to placate the Saudis. And they're the lucky ones. According to the Washington Post, "foreign Christians have been beaten or detained for long periods without charge or trial." How ironic this is, for the Wall Street Journal recently disclosed that Wahhabi leaders are sending Qur'áns to be distributed by Muslim clerics to American prisoners. But at the same time, we are not allowed to send Bibles to our own troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. The CIFR has called for an investigation and for the U.S. government to pressure the Saudis to lift these and other restrictions. But that's not going to happen unless the State Department gets on board. And that seems unlikely. Despite being on record that religious freedom "does not exist" in Saudi Arabia, the State Department declined to designate Saudi Arabia as a "country of particular concern." This omission prompted the Washington Post to editorialize that "keeping a list of countries of 'particular concern' makes no sense if Saudi Arabia is excluded for political reasons." This is one time when I agree completely with the editors of the Post. Oil or no oil, we cannot, in conscience, ignore these transgressions. Winking at one of the world's worst violators of religious freedom sends the message that we don't think that religious freedom is that important -- or worse, that it's a principle that we are prepared to trade for more tangible goods, like oil. And that kind of cynicism only reinforces those who violate religious freedom. If we're going to advance the cause of religious freedom around the world, every part of our government has to get on board. And that starts with being willing to shine the spotlight wherever it needs to be shone, no matter what lies underneath the ground in that country. For further reading and information: Visit this page for a list of organizations working to end religious persecution. "Tolerating Saudi Bigotry," Washington Post, 19 May 2003, A18. Visit the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom website and read the Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (May 2003). You can read reports on Saudi Arabia here. Carol Eisenberg, "Panel Pans U.S. over Saudi Arabia,", 14 May 2003. Stephanie Ho, "U.S. Panel Recommends Ways for Saudi Arabia to Increase Religious Freedom," Voice of America News, 13 May 2003. Michael Horowitz, "Cry Freedom," Christianity Today, March 2003. Ted Olsen, "Weblog: State Department Must Criticize Saudi Arabia's Religious Repression, Commission Says," Christianity Today, 14 May 2003. Paul M. Barrett, "How a Muslim Chaplain Spread Extremism to an Inmate Flock," Wall Street Journal, 5 February 2003 (available to WSJ subscribers, or call 1-877-3-CALLBP for a free copy). Nina Shea, In the Lion's Den: Persecuted Christians and What the Western Church Can Do about It(Broadman & Holman, 1997). "Defenders of the Church" -- In this special BreakPoint radio broadcast, an award-winning journalist and a recent high school graduate talk about their respective efforts to bring the plight of suffering Christians to the attention of the world and the Church. This CD also includes a speech by Dianne Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.  


Chuck Colson


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