Obama Urged to Defend Religious Freedom: News Roundup

Obama is getting heat this week his administration’s supposed leniency on standards of religious freedom abroad, Belgium is even closer to banning the burqa and the Supreme Court ruled on the contentious Mojave memorial cross case.

First, a quick plug to our Peacemaker in Action, Sakena Yacoobi, who appeared on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” this week to discuss her education work in Pakistan and Afghanistan in “Islamic Feminists Transforming the Middle East.
On to the religious freedom report: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 11th annual report Thursday detailing the “hot spots” around the world where religious freedom is endangered and recommending U.S. government policies to improve conditions (AP reports).
The panel found 13 “hot spots” this year: Myanmar, also known as Burma; China; Eritrea; Iran; North Korea; Saudi Arabia; Sudan; and Uzbekistan — plus Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam (CNN reports).
The situation in Saudi Arabia is "systematic, egregious and ongoing;" in China there has been a “marked deterioration in the past year, particularly in Tibetan Buddhist and Uighur Muslim areas;” and in Iran there has been “prolonged detention, torture and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.” (NPR reports).
The Commission came down hard on the Obama administration, saying that by referring to “freedom of worship” rather than “religious freedom” as the main concern, countries can get away with more abuses (Christian Science Monitor reports).
Leonard Leo, Chairman of the Commission said:
"When you start narrowing the discussion, the signal the administration is sending to the international community is that as long as they prop up a few churches or houses of worship (of minority faiths), there isn't going to be a problem" (USA Today reports).
The White House disagreed saying:
"The president has spoken clearly and unequivocally about his support for religious freedom." (USA Today reports).
Now for some updates on past headlines:
Belgium is about to beat France in the race to ban the burqa. The lower house of Parliament voted for a law that would ban the wearing of the full body Islamic veil in public places. The legislation now moves onto the Senate, which will have two weeks to raise any objections. If passed, the ban will be the first of its kind in Europe.
The Supreme Court has finally reached a decision on the controversial Mojave cross case that nabbed headlines last fall. In a divided ruling, the justices said a federal court was wrong to order the removal of a cross erected on public land in California as a memorial to World War I vets.


Justice Kennedy wrote that the bottom line is "the Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion's role in society." (Washington Post reports).
What does this mean? The court intentionally avoided making any “sweeping pronouncements” about how the ruling will affect similar cases, but it does give us some insight into how the current justices divide over separation of church and state issues, as they split 5 to 4 on this decision.
And lastly, some other stories to check out:
Legal Victory Raises Profile of an Atheist Group    NYTimes

See you next week!

Images from:
Obama: paxcommunications.org
Burqa: Alaffia.org
Cross: LATimes