THE US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said last week that
"pressure is rising" on religious minorities around the world.
Speaking at a press briefing to launch the US State Department's
2011 International Religious Freedom Report, on Thursday
of last week, Mrs Clinton said: "More than a billion people live
under governments that systematically suppress religious freedom.
New technologies have given repressive governments additional tools
for cracking down on religious expression. . . Even some countries
that are making progress on expanding political freedom are frozen
in place when it comes to religious freedom."
Mrs Clinton said that Egypt was "grappling" with the challenge
of religious freedom "as it navigates its unprecedented democratic
transition". Christians in Egypt "want to know that they will be
accorded the same rights and respect as all Egyptians in a new
government led by an Islamist party. They wonder, understandably,
will a government looking explicitly to greater reliance on Islamic
principles stand up for non-Muslims and Muslims equally?"
The report says that the interim government of Egypt has taken
"measures towards greater inclusiveness, such as passing an
anti-discrimination law; arresting and prosecuting alleged
instigators of sectarian rioting; and allowing dozens of churches
previously closed to reopen".
But "sectarian tensions and violence increased during the year",
and the report cites the attack on Coptic Christian demonstrators
last year by Egyptian security forces (
News, 14 October 2011). "To date, government officials have not
been held accountable for their action."
The government of Burma, the report says, "took steps towards
overcoming a long-standing legacy of intense religious
oppression", such as easing restrictions on the construction of
churches. But, it says, "the government continued to impose
restrictions on certain religious activities, and frequently
limited religious freedom."
The increasing religious and racial diversity in Europe is
"sometimes accompanied by growing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, [and]
anti-Muslim sentiment", the report says. It also says that there
has been "a global increase in anti-Semitism, manifested in
Holocaust denial, glorification, and relat-ivism".
The report is strongly critical of China. In 2011, it says,
"there was a marked deterioration . . . in the government's respect
for and protection of religious freedom." China "only allows groups
belonging to one of the five state-sponsored 'patriotic religious
associations' . . . to register with the government and legally
hold worship services".
The Chinese government published a response on the country's
official news agency, Xinhua, last Friday. It described the
report as "nothing but a political tool used by the US government
to exert pressure on other countries, mostly deemed as its
On Tuesday, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio
Bertone, sent a letter on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI to Carl
Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Roman Catholic fraternity the
Knights of St Columba. It said that religious freedom was under
threat in the United States.
RC bishops in the US are campaigning against the US Department
of Health and Human Services mandate, which requires employers to
provide insurance for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
The letter quoted Pope Benedict's remarks earlier this year, which
urged American RC bishops to "counter a reductive secularism which
would delegitimise the Church's participation in public debate
about the issues which are determining the future of American
Russia survey. A report on religious freedom in Russia since
late 2008, published last month by the Christian human-rights group
said that "the most serious type of [religious] freedom violation -
misapplication of counter-extremism measures against peaceful
profession of religion or belief - is now extensive."