In 1988, Ronald Reagan went to the newly restored Danilov Monastery in Moscow. Founded in the 13th century, the monastery had been restored not by the generosity of the Soviet state but by, as Reagan noted, “35 million believers” who had given “personal contributions.”
“Our people feel it keenly when religious freedom is denied to anyone anywhere,” said Reagan boldly in the heart of Communist oppression. “And hope with you that soon all the many Soviet religious communities that are now prevented from registering, or are banned altogether … will soon be able to practice their religion freely and openly and instruct their children in and outside the home in the fundamentals of their faith.”
That historic moment occurred in the waning days of a dying Soviet empire. But to date, no American president, Republican or Democrat, has replicated it in the other regions of the world where religious repression is commonplace.
Clearly, President Obama has not taken up the torch, as he has shown little, if any, interest in international religious liberty. His first State Department ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom wasn’t confirmed until April 2011 — 27 months into his first term.
This disinterest is reflected in the administration’s disregard for the religious nature of much of international terror:
- When ISIS beheaded 21 men on a Libyan beach, the White House said in astatement, “The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya.”
“Citizens,” not Christians whose faith led to their death.
- When a Taliban faction deliberately targeted Christians in an Easter attack in Pakistan, a spokesman for the president’s National Security Council said, “The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s appalling terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan.”
An attack on whom is unclear. Not to the Taliban: They issued a statement saying they specifically had aimed at killing Christians.
- And when nearly 150 students worshipping in a Christian service were murdered by the Islamist Al-Shabab terror group at Kenya’s Garissa University College, the White House condemned the slaughter which, it said, “reportedly included the targeting of Christian students.”
“Reportedly included?” Take it from Joel Ayora, a witness who told CNN that gunmen took hostages at a Christian service and then “proceeded to the hostels, shooting anybody they came across except their fellows, the Muslims.”
The president’s rather recent appointment of Rabbi David Saperstein as the religious freedom ambassador has been a welcome change from his ineffective predecessor. Longtime religious freedom advocate Knox Thames, appointed in September as the State Department’s special adviser for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, is also doing a fine job.
These are welcome appointments, but they do not represent an essential rethinking of the president’s seeming lassitude about the rising tide of anti-Christian persecution around the world.
To their enduring credit, House members Trent Franks, Mark Meadows, Anna Eshoo, and longtime religious liberty advocate Chris Smith have persistently addressed international religious liberty issues. Senators Marco Rubio and John Boozman have also spoken out. But a handful in a House and Senate controlled substantially by the GOP, a party that prides itself on standing for religious liberty, is not enough.
That’s why we’re calling for the House to pass Congressman Smith’s International Religious Freedom Act of 2015 (H.R. 1150), which directs the ambassador for religious freedom “to seek to coordinate religious freedom policies and religious engagement strategies across all U.S. programs, projects, and activities.” Senator Rubio is preparing to offer a companion bill in the Senate.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service
(Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council; Frank Wolf is a senior fellow of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and a former U.S. congressman from Virginia)