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U.S. State Department Receives Failing Marks as Religious Freedom Watchdog at IRFA Hearing PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 20 June 2013 19:47

On June 13, 2013 the first Congressional hearing for the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) was held since former President Clinton signed the bill.department_of_state.svgIRFA states the U.S. Government must “strengthen [its] advocacy” of religious freedom, but fifteen years later religious persecution has reached its peak worldwide.

According to a 2012 PEW Research Center’s Forum On Religion and Public Life report, “three-quarters of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion,” a five percent rise from the previous year.

IRFA was passed with the purpose of monitoring global religious freedom by sanctioning countries whose government violently suppresses its citizens’ rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and worship. Three entities were created by IRFA to ensure its effectiveness – an International Religious Freedom Office within the State Department headed by an Ambassador-at-Large, a bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and a Special Advisor on International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council.

The hearing’s panel included five witnesses: 

  • Katrina Lantos Swett, Ph.D., Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
  • Thomas F. Farr, Ph.D., Director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs
  • Ms. Tina Ramirez, veteran religious freedom activist and President of Hardwired, Inc.
  • N. Mahmood Ahmad, Assistant National Director of Public Affairs at Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA
  • Chris Seiple, Ph.D., President of Institute for Global Engagement 

Several speakers noted Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook’s absence from the panel, although she reportedly accepted the invitation to testify.

According to Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the State Department notified Johnson Cook of the scheduled hearing in May. However, after learning Johnson Cook would be sharing a panel with witnesses from Non-Government Organizations, the State Department refused to send any representative. Chaffetz called Johnson Cook’s absence “terribly disappointing” and “a waste of Congress’ time.” 

The panelists expressed their discontent that while USCIRF annually designates Countries of Particular Concern (CPC’s) for the State Department to consider, the State Department has not named a single CPC since August 2011, although it is mandatory for it to do so annually. Designated CPC’s lose their status after two years, so the State Department has until August to release names, Lantos Swett said.

Religious persecution is a global security issue, Lantos Swett emphasized, citing 9/11. There are countless examples of government officials or private citizens carrying out violent acts in the name of religion, both at home and cross-border.

Last Updated on Monday, 24 June 2013 16:19
Eritrea: Hidden Gem or Intolerant Tyranny? PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 15:54

Eritrea has been referred to as “The Hidden Gem in Africa” because of its rich history and natural attractions. Yahoo! published a travel article in 2007, advertising

churchesndmosque_eritreaEritrea as a prime family vacation destination. The article mentions ancient ruins, scuba diving, snorkeling, and religious attractions. It describes Eritrea’s town of Asmara as a place where Christians and Muslims harmoniously coexist.
In reality, Eritrea is suffering from an oppressive government, which has not changed presidents since 1993 and often arrests people practicing a religion other than one of the four registered religions – Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Sunni Muslim.

This past May 37 Christian students from the College of Arts and Social Sciences in the Eritrean town of Adi Kihe and five men from the Church of the Living God in Asmara were arrested for practicing an unregistered strain of Christianity, Charisma News reported.

“Eritrea is one of the most repressive, secretive, and inaccessible countries in the world,” Amnesty International’s Eritrea Researcher, Claire Beston, told the BBC. 

According to the U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, 1,500 people were imprisoned in Eritrea because of their religious beliefs last year. At least 105 arrests were Christians, 31 of which died in prison, the World Watch List reported.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 16:10
China Remains a 'Country of Particular Concern' PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 May 2013 15:55

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2013 Annual Report on the state of international religious freedom on April 30. China was once again listed under “countries of particular concern.” The report notes the government’s continuing mistreatment toward the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.

USCIRF also noted the Chinese government’s rise in mistreatment toward Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims.Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen speaking at a rally opposing Falun Gong persecution.

Falun Gong emerged in China in the 1990’s. While the Communist government originally offered its support to the qigong exercise-based communities, Falun Gong’s spiritual philosophy became perceived as a threat to national security and social harmony as its numbers rose.

According to the USCIRF report, Falun Gong members “face some of the most intense and violent forms of persecution.” Members are jailed, forced to renounce their faith, or sent to detention centers where they are tortured. Furthermore, it is hard to find anyone in China to legally speak against the oppression Falun Gong members face. According to the USCIRF report, “The Chinese government also continues to harass, detain, intimidate, and disbar attorneys who defend members of vulnerable religious groups.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2013 20:16
Hate Crimes Toward Coptic Christians in Egypt Continue PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 June 2013 17:41

Coptic Christians continue to be the targets of hate crimes in Egypt. This past week two Coptic churches were attacked by Muslim mobs, resulting in several injuries

Coptic Icon St. Mark
and one death, Assyrian International News Agency reported. Both attacks took place after Coptic men allegedly harassed two Muslim women.
The most recent attack took place on May 19th. Official reports state that Copt Basem Ramzy Michael allegedly extended himself over his balcony to look into the flat of a Muslim woman living below him. The witness was Hamada Alloshy, a registered criminal. A fight broke out between Copts and Muslims, which moved to the church of St. Mary in the Dakhela district, west of Alexandria. Several hundred Copts joined the fight to protect their church.  Muslims shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they threw Molotov cocktails and bricks at the crowd of Copts.

Sedky Sherif, 36, was one of the men who rushed to defend his church. While official reports state he “died of fright,” his family and witnesses say, “his body was full of bruises and marks from bird shots.” Sherif’s nephew, Rabah, was with him when he died. He claims, “1,000 Copts were present and were attacked by more than 20,000 Muslims.” A death certificate issued for Sherif states the “cause of death as ‘under investigation.’”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 June 2013 19:51
Japanese Unification Church Member Missing PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 May 2013 00:33

"T.I.” (whose name is protected for privacy) was apparently abducted against his will. He had three cell phones, an unusually high number for a college student, even in technology-rich Japan. One was for everyday use, one was a back-up phone, and one’s specific purpose was its GPS locator. T.I. knew about cases involving parents kidnapping their adult child to reverse their decision to join the Unification Church. He was prepared for this possibility.

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A senior in the College of Science and Engineering at Kanazawa University, 21-year-old T.I. is an adult under Japanese law, which guarantees his right to religious freedom, including the right to adopt a religion which is different from one’s family of origin. T.I. joined the Unification Church’s Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP) in April, 2011. He then moved into a CARP dormitory that summer.


T.I. informed his family about his affiliation with CARP in June, 2012. His mother reportedly became distraught and asked him to leave the dormitory as soon as possible. His father also opposed to his choice of religion, but did not pressure him about it. While T.I. continued living in the CARP dormitory, he maintained regular communication with his family and informed them that he had received a solid job offer from a non-church company to employ him after his graduation.


Unification Church member Mr. S. lives in the same neighborhood as T.I.’s family. When T.I. visited home last New Year’s Day, he asked Mr. S. for help in case T.I.’s parents were to kidnap him.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2013 15:51

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