Religious freedom continues forward in U.S. legislature

By September 16, 2011

International (MNN) — The House yesterday approved House Resolution
2867. It's a bill that reauthorizes the
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The commission reviews religious freedom violations and
makes policy recommendations to the president and Congress. Among its duties is
the issuance of a report detailing countries that severely infringe on religious rights.

This year's report listed Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North
Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan among the world's worst
offenders. Todd
Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says, "We appreciate the U.S. government really making religious freedom
an issue within our relationships with other nations. This is something that the
State Department looks into."

There were several countries missing from the list, most
notably Pakistan, Vietnam and Somalia. The USCIRF also recommended that Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria and Turkmenistan be
on the list. 

The commission reviews religious freedom violations and uses
the CPC report to make policy recommendations to the president and Congress. Nettleton says the message the report sends
is clear. "Overall, I think this is
an important thing for our government to say that religious freedom is important
and to bring this out in front of the world as the law stipulates that they
will do."

Although there has been a lot of upheaval in many parts of
North Africa and the Middle East as reported by religious rights watchdogs,
Nettleton notes that "there have not been any changes to the list of Countries
of Particular Concern since 2009. It's been two years since they've either taken
somebody off of that list, or added somebody to that list."

Some countries vigorously defend their human and religious rights
records, says Nettleton. "There are always questions about what's the
terminology, how do they come to these conclusions, who gets on the list, and who gets off the list. But the important thing is: we're talking about this. It's in front of the world."

Others make strides to improve the conditions. "There have been some very positive
developments with Turkey, and I think some of that links back to Turkey very
badly wants to be a part of the European Union. The European Union, as well,
has said, 'We need to see progress in
the area of religious freedom. We need to see progress in how minorities are
treated in Turkey before we want you to be a part of our group.'"

Does being on the list have any teeth? Aside from sanction
recommendations, "Yes," says Nettleton. "International pressure can produce
good results in countries where Christians are persecuted." 

Nettleton goes on to say that "in our conversations with
legislators and with others in Washington, DC, we're able to say, 'The State
Department says this is going on. Let us tell you about what we know. Let us
tell you what our contacts inside that country are saying as well.' It becomes one more tool in our toolbox, as
we try to be a voice for persecuted Christians, in the United States."

Awareness of the plight of believers often leads to action. "We
want people to be aware. I think the first step, particularly in churches
and in the hearts of Christians, is just knowing what's going on. That knowledge helps people to go forward and
then say, 'Okay, what we can do?'"

Once naiveté is stripped away, the message of the Gospel and
the spiritual connection around the world are catalysts for change. Nettleton says they use that energy to
encourage Christians being persecuted for their faith. "Voice of the
Martyrs really directs people in some really practical things that they can do,
starting with prayer. We can lift them up before God. Then, there
are other things that we can do to be a voice for them: providing help directly, and providing Bibles."

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