Religious freedom a U.S. priority

By February 10, 2014
(Image courtesy US Department of State/Wikipedia)

(Image courtesy US Department of State/Wikipedia)

USA (MNN) — Atrocities around the world demonstrate the need for a big voice to say “NO more!”

Violence related to Arab Spring, multiple coup d’états, and conflict over the name of God has brought into sharp relief the nature of religious violence around the world. According to a report published last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Christians face hostility and violence in 110 countries, and hostility toward religion globally has reached the highest level recorded in the six years since the report began.

In addition, persecution watchdog organizations reported last month that the number of Christian martyrs worldwide had doubled between 2012 and 2013. “This year, with the release of our World Watch List, the world has been paying attention to the events that are happening around the world in circumstances of Christian persecution in a way that they haven’t done before,”  says Dr. David Curry, President and CEO of Open Doors USA.

It demonstrates a pressing need for the Obama administration to immediately appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. However, during the Obama Administration, the seat has remained empty longer than it has been filled. Facing criticism for leaving the position vacant for nearly a year- and-a-half after his first inauguration in 2009, Obama filled it with Suzanne Johnson Cook. She unexpectedly resigned from her post at the State Department three months ago, after 30 months on the job.

Open Doors USA has been urging President Obama to quickly name a qualified person to fill the position. Curry says, “I was encouraged that the president said that he would name another ambassador for religious freedom at the State Department. I’m going to be more encouraged when we actually see action on it, but it’s a good first step.

“I think there’s been a big void in leadership on this issue from the administration and from our government” says Curry, adding, “What I’m hoping is that this signals a change in strategy,  and that they’re going to make this a pre-eminent issue in our relations around the world.”

The position was created in 1998 to monitor religious persecution, recommend and implement policies, and advise the U.S. State Department and the administration. Curry explains, “It’s important that America stands up for the values it believes in, and this is one way to do it: to have some representation, to raise the flag and say, ‘Hey! This is an issue that Americans care about and that the American government cares about.’”

(Photo courtesy Open Doors USA)

(Photo courtesy Open Doors USA)

Curry goes on to say, “This is a very important role that the State Depart ambassador strictly to address the religious freedom issues. There are countries around the world where Christians are not able to worship in freedom, where other religious minorities are persecuted and imprisoned for trying to express their faith.”

In fact, at the February 6 National Prayer Breakfast, President Barak Obama seemed to agree. He pledged to elevate religious freedom as a part of U.S. foreign policy and addressed specific cases of religious persecution.

“Today, we profess the principles we know to be true…the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free from persecution and fear,” said the president. He went on to add, “Promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. And I’m proud that no nation on Earth does more to stand up for the freedom of religion around the world than the United States of America.” 

Toward the end of his remarks, the president also called for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini and missionary Kenneth Bae, both Christians and U.S. citizens imprisoned for more than a year in Iran and North Korea. Both nations are in the top 10 countries known for the persecution of Christians (Iran #9, North Korea #1) according to the World Watch List.

(Photo courtesy Open Doors USA)

(Photo courtesy Open Doors USA)

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest, and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world’s most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry, and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers.

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