WASHINGTON — Religious leaders joined together in a diverse coalition in urging President Obama to act quickly to name a special envoy to help protect religious adherents in the Middle East and south-central Asia.
The International Religious Freedom Roundtable calling for the appointment of the envoy eight months after the position was created by a new law. Obama signed the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act Aug. 8 but has yet to fill the post.
Meanwhile, religious repression or persecution of Christians and others has continued or increased in such countries as Iraq, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and Afghanistan. Under the law, a special envoy’s duties would include monitoring religious freedom conditions in the regions and recommending responses by Washington to violations of religious rights.
In the letter, the signers say, “[D]iscrimination, repression and outright violence against religious minorities [have] only escalated” since the bill became law.
“We respectfully request that you swiftly fill the position,” the letter says. “Doing so would signal to beleaguered communities in the Middle East, and beyond, that America stands with them.”
Among the religious communities victimized by Islamic extremists in particular in the Near East — also known as the Middle East — and south-central Asia are Christians, Yazidis in Iraq, Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan and Baha’is in Iran. The existence of entire religious movements is threatened in some countries, such as Iraq and Egypt.
The letter cites the following among the violations of religious liberty:
- The self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has carried out a murderous campaign in both countries that has resulted in displacement, forced conversion, rape, kidnapping and death for Christians, Yazidis and others.
- Suicide bombers struck Christian worship services in two churches March 15 in Lahore, Pakistan, killing 15 and seriously injuring 70.
- Iran has imprisoned about 100 Baha’is and has kept Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini in prison for more than two years.
ISIS also has executed Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya. The latest executions — this time of about 30 Ethiopians — were shown on videos released online April 19.
“The crisis facing Christians and other vulnerable religious minorities in countries like Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Iran cannot be overstated,” said recently retired congressman Frank Wolf, a leading advocate for global religious freedom while in the House of Representatives and cofounder of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.
In a written statement, Wolf said a special envoy “is long overdue.”
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission announced in February its agenda for 2015 includes the appointment of a special envoy by Obama.
Individuals who signed the letter were Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University; Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom; Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project of the Berkley Center at Georgetown University; Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation; and Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern.
Swett and George also are members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Among the organizations that endorsed the letter were Open Doors USA, American Center for Law and Justice, Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Institute on Religion and Democracy, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, Institute for Global Engagement, Coptic Solidarity, Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, Church of Scientology National Affairs Office, Universal Muslim Association of America and American Humanist Association.
The International Religious Freedom Roundtable — a loosely organized group of non-governmental organizations that meets regularly for conversations about religious liberty overseas — sent the letter in support of one the previous week from congressional members of both parties and both houses that asked Obama to name a special envoy soon.
— by Tom Strode | BP