Laws repressing religious freedom worldwide: News Roundup

Countries around the world, including allies of the United States, have used laws on blasphemy and apostasy to suppress political opponents, the State Department said on Monday in an annual report chronicling a grim decline in religious freedom that has resulted in rising bigotry and sectarian violence.

The report singled out eight countries for particularly egregious and systemic repression of religious rights: China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. In China, the report said, religious freedoms declined in the last year, highlighted by punitive actions against Christians, Muslims and Buddhists in Tibet, where 82 monks, nuns or laypeople killed themselves in acts of self-immolation last year.

Proliferating laws against blasphemy or apostasy, including in several countries undergoing political transitions after the Arab spring, are not protecting religions, as officials often claim, but rather targeting other faiths, at times selectively.  New York Times

Leaders of Britain’s 2.8 million Muslims reacted with horror and anger following Wednesday’s (May 22) slaughter with knives and machetes of an off-duty British soldier in the streets outside the Royal Artillery Barracks in south London.

A statement from the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the slaughter of the soldier by two men – both believed to be Christian converts to Islam – as “a barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and which we condemn unreservedly.”

Abdullah al Andalusi, a spokesman for the Muslim Debate Initiative, which brings together Islamic scholars and researchers in the U.K., said: “These people claimed they killed the soldier in the name of protecting others from UK foreign policy. But if what they claim is true, they have acted no differently from the crimes they claim they wish to see stopped.”  Religion News Service

Even with some legal protections in place, Afghan women, and sometimes even little girls, can be sold to pay family debts. In the country’s vast rural areas, just talking to a man who is not a close relative can be punishable by death. And in some places, girls are routinely married at puberty.

And now, preserving any protections long-term appears to be in question, as the country’s tiny women’s rights movement faces an unenviable decision: leave intact the only law that attempts to halt such abuses, or continue to present changes to Parliament and run the risk that a growing conservative bloc could dismantle the law entirely.  New York Times

Atheists and other nonbelievers largely welcomed Wednesday’s (May 22) remarks by Pope Francis that performing “good works” is not the exclusive domain of people of faith, but rather a place where they and atheists could and should meet.

In a private homily, Francis described doing good not as a matter of faith, but of “duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness.”

Then, referring to non-Catholics and nonbelievers, he said, “if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.”  Religion News Service