Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Lousy Record on Religious Freedom

In his indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, Obama has made it quite clear that his administration has little interest in protecting and promoting religious freedom. Others have noted his indifference. And he’s about to hear (well, if he bothered to listen) a blast from the U.S. Council on International Religious Freedom. In the introduction to its voluminous report, the USCIRF explains that there are “disturbing trends that threaten freedom of religion across the globe”:

There is the exportation of extremist ideology, which USCIRF has observed in Saudi Arabia’s dissemination of educational materials that instill hate and incite violence throughout the world. In Iran, the government persecutes many of its political opponents in the name of religion under blasphemy and apostasy laws, and denies all rights to one disfavored religious group, the Baha’is. There are also countless instances of state-sponsored repression of religion: Vietnam imprisons individuals for reasons related to their exercise or advocacy of freedom of religion or belief; the Egyptian government fails to provide Baha’is, Coptic Christians and other religious minorities the very basic benefits and privileges that others enjoy; North Korea bans virtually all worship and imprisons in its infamous labor camps even the grandchildren of those caught praying; and China seriously restricts religious activities, church governance, and places of worship.

Yet Obama hasn’t bothered to appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. And he has chosen not to highlight the violations of religious freedom by the top abusers — including China, Egypt, Turkey, and Cuba — but rather to shove the issue to the side. So the question remains: why is the Obama administration, as the USCIRF chair put it, “insufficiently engaged”? Well, it has another agenda, not the promotion of freedom and democracy (too Bush!), but rather cozying up to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in an attempt to “defuse tension” and improve our “standing in the world.” So if you are going to bow to the Saudi King and to the Chinese communist leaders, avoid confrontation with Iran, and generally suck up to the “Muslim World,” you really can’t be bashing them for their egregious track record on human rights, including religious freedom.

But to what end is all of this? It seems as though we have not endeared ourselves to despots, but that we have demonstrated to both the oppressors and  the oppressed that America has better things to do. The world is less free and the despots, more emboldened as a result.