Link between religious persecution, terrorism needs attention, Bolton says

June 27, 2006

WASHINGTON (BP)–The connection between religious persecution and support for terrorism demonstrates why freedom of belief should be significant to the foreign policy of the United States and the work of the United Nations, Ambassador John Bolton said recently at Religious Freedom Day on Capitol Hill.

Speaking at the inaugural event, the United States ambassador to the U.N. said the importance of focusing on religious liberty is demonstrated in a general truth about oppressive regimes.

“It is a nearly 100 percent correlation -– I don’t think it’s accidental –- that countries that suppress human rights domestically, and particularly countries that have demonstrated extraordinary religious intolerance, are also among the states that are the principle state sponsors of terrorism, and have been for many years, and are states pursuing weapons of mass destruction -– nuclear, chemical, biological -– and the ballistic missile capabilities they need to deliver those weapons of mass destruction,” Bolton said to an audience consisting largely of congressional staff members and religious freedom advocates.

While religious suppression, sponsorship of terrorism and the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction “may sound like unrelated policies,” it is intriguing “to see that regimes that engage in one of those practices tend to engage in all three,” Bolton said. “I think as foreign policy practitioners, we have not paid enough attention to this correlation. There’s some reason that regimes that are threats from the perspective of the global war on terror, regimes that are threats because of their effort to proliferate weapons of mass destruction are also so abusive in terms of religious liberty and human rights more generally. And that’s the sort of thing that ought to engage the United Nations more."

The Congressional Working Group on Religious Freedom and its founder, Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., sponsored the four-hour event. The bipartisan group brings more than 90 nongovernmental organizations together monthly with members of the Senate and House of Representatives to discuss domestic and international issues regarding religious liberty.

John Hanford, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, made the same point as Bolton about the correlation between persecution of religious adherents and support for terrorism.

“Religious freedom deserves a central place in our foreign policy because religious persecution leads to the suppression of other human rights,” Hanford said. “I would argue that respect for religious freedom is a very useful, diagnostic tool or a litmus test for a society’s overall health.”

He gave five other reasons Americans should defend religious liberty where it is endangered:

— Religious freedom is a “universal ideal,” not just an American or Western ideal.

— It is a “cornerstone of other human rights, because it cuts to the very core of what it means to be human.”

— It is a “living American ideal” as the “first freedom” in the Bill of Rights.

— It is a “moral obligation.”

— Its promotion is “in our national interest.”

“The ideal of religious freedom calls us to a task greater than merely defending our own enjoyment of it,” Hanford said. “[O]ver half of the world’s people live under serious persecution or restrictions of their right to worship or practice according to their religious beliefs.”

The June 20 event served as a briefing on concerns about religious liberty in the United States and overseas, with a focus on the conditions in Muslim-dominated countries.

Activist Wafa Sultan, named in May as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, delivered a withering critique of Islam.

Asking those present to assist Muslim women and children, she said the teachings of Islam “are based on oppression, violence, persecution and conquering."

"The Muslim people are the first victims of Islam," she said. "Islam controls its people with fear and persecution. Osama Bin Laden and his followers are just obeying their prophet, who is their master, and following his teaching. Mohammad, the prophet of Islam, rules with an iron fist….

“To address and fix such a major problem, you have to face it without fear, no matter what the cost is,” said Sultan, a Southern California psychiatrist and mother of three who was reared in Syria. “You have to understand that compromises will make the problem worse.”

Religious liberty expert Paul Marshall said laws against apostasy and blasphemy are spreading rapidly in many portions of the Islamic world.

The assassination of Danish filmmaker Theo van Gogh, the riots in reaction to the cartoons of Mohammad and the unsuccessful attempt to institute the death penalty for Abdul Rahman, the Afghan Muslim who converted to Christianity, “are only the tip of the iceberg of a very widespread and growing phenomenon,” said Marshall, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Center for Religious Freedom.

In recent months, converts from Islam have been threatened, beaten or killed in such Islamic countries as Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Turkey, he said.

Specialists also provided updates on the conditions in China, Egypt, India, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

First Amendment lawyers reported on current or potential problems domestically in the workplace, on college campuses and with “same-sex marriage.”

The further legitimization of “homosexual marriage,” which is legal only in Massachusetts, will have a pervasive effect on the law, said Anthony Picarello, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“Goodness knows how these [cases] will resolve themselves,” Picarello said, “but there is no question that the disputes will arise.”

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), described several cases of college or university discrimination against the religious rights of individuals and organizations. A trend on campuses is to deny to organizations the freedom to determine their membership and leadership, he said.

Such organizations, “overwhelmingly Christian evangelical groups, have been denied this basic right on dozens of campuses, often being told they may not discriminate on the basis of religion,” Lukianoff said. “For institutions that often claim to value diversity, America’s colleges and universities must recognize that respect for students of faith contributes to, not detracts from, that diversity.”

Workplace issues can be grouped in the following three categories, Nathan Diament said: Scheduling, clothing and appearance, and freedom of conscience.

The Workplace Religious Freedom Act bill, S. 677 and H.R. 1445, is designed to provide relief to religious adherents on the job without disturbing the workplace significantly, said Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

More than 30 religious organizations, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, have endorsed WRFA.

When Santorum began speaking, ERLC Vice President Barrett Duke surprised him with the presentation of an annual religious liberty award from the SBC entity. The ERLC chose Santorum at its most recent meeting in September to receive the 2005 John Leland Religious Liberty Award. The award is named after a Virginia Baptist pastor who was integral in gaining a protection for religious freedom in the Bill of Rights.

In making the presentation, Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy, read the award’s text, which saluted Santorum for “courageously defending” religious liberty.

Santorum told the audience members he tries to “amplify your voice” and speak “on behalf of those who are oppressed” in the United States and “around the world.”