• New Government Report On Global Religious Persecution Is Grim As Ever

    The Department of State released its annual report on international religious freedom Wednesday, presenting a drab picture of persecution against all faiths.

    In his remarks introducing the report, Secretary of State John Kerry pointed to a new phenomenon, the rise of so-called non-state actors, such as Islamic State, that violate religious freedom. At the same time, he criticized countries who exacerbate religious tensions by “misusing the word ‘terrorist’” and abusing anti-extremism laws to exert social control. (RELATED: 13-Month Gap Ends As US Official Named To Help ISIS’ Christian Victims)

    The report covers events during the calendar year 2014. Unlike the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, whose annual report covers only the world’s most serious violators, the State Department’s report is comprehensive and covers every country, with the participation of U.S. diplomats posted worldwide.

    It especially highlighted Christians under fire worldwide, from governments and non-state actors alike. It confronts the Syrian government’s claim to be a “protector of Syria’s religious minorities,” pointing out that President Bashar Assad “promoted a sectarian narrative to describe the country’s ongoing conflict while allowing [Islamists] to flourish in some areas.”

    Besides the crisis facing Christians at the hands of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, it also discusses systematic persecution of Christians from China to Saudi Arabia to North Korea. (RELATED: What The Christian Relatives Of ISIS Victims Actually Want)

    Another trend was the rise of anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe, often under the guise of criticism of Israel. David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, explained that while “public criticism of any nation” is “appropriate,” events during the period covered by the report increasingly crossed the line between legitimate critique and overt racism.

    As an example, the report links anti-Semitism in Germany with “protests against Israeli actions during the conflict in Gaza” in the summer of 2014. It notes that Germany’s own government found “right-wing-extremist manifestations of anti-Semitism” declining in comparison to previous years, while independent groups saw “a rising anti-Semitic trend among Muslim youth.” (RELATED: Jews Leaving Europe For Israel In Record Numbers)

    The report also points out the use of anti-blasphemy laws to suppress religious dissent, a trend that especially prevails in the Muslim world.

    Aside from the leading trends in the report, Kerry emphasized in his remarks that “the right to religious freedom is not contingent on having a large number of followers.” Likewise, persecutors in the report range from secular governments to authorities professing Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and other faiths.

    He also condemned the shooting that took place at an Oregon community college earlier this month as an “attack against religion itself.”

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