U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday introduced the release of the 2012 International Religious Freedom report, which is compiled by State Department employees annually to reveal the status of the advancement of religious freedom abroad.
The report chronicles global violence in democracies and dictatorships, and cites incidents of Holocaust denial and expressions of anti-Semitism by government officials, religious leaders and the media, which has led to desecration and violence, particularly in Venezuela, Egypt and Iran.
Kerry said increasing anti-Semitism was a troubling trend, and announced that Ira Forman, former CEO of the National Democratic Council, will hold the position of special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
“Another troubling trend is the increasing use of laws governing blasphemy and apostasy,” Kerry said. “These laws are frequently used to repress dissent, to harass political opponents and to settle personal vendettas. Laws such as these violate fundamental freedoms of expression and religion, and we believe they ought to be repealed.”
“When countries undermine or attack religious freedom, they threaten their country’s own stability.
Attacks on religion are both a moral and strategic national concern for the United States,” Kerry said.
Providing details about the IRF report, Susan Johnson Cook, ambassador-at-large for the Office of International Religious Freedom, highlighted specific international concerns, including the targeting of faith groups and religious minorities in Syria, Iraq and Burma, among others, and sectarian violence in Pakistan and increasing anti-Semitism in Europe.
Cook, who recently visited Vietnam, China and Saudi Arabia to discuss issues pertaining to religious freedom with senior government officials, commended the Vietnam government for “taking a step forward by allowing large-scale worship services with more than 100,000 participants.”
According Schenck, Cook is a “bridge builder,” who has been able to transcend politics and communicate with leaders of both parties and an array of religious leaders to bring added attention to persecuted groups around the world.
“She’s a woman of deep faith and she takes these cases personally,” he said. “She’s very hopeful, even though she has seen the very worst.” Schenck also cautioned that even though it appears progress is being made in Vietnam and in China – where the government first refused Cook before finally inviting her to the country to meet with officials and leaders of an illegal house church – “we have a long way to go, and no one should understate that.”
In her outline of the IRF report, Cook also mentioned concerns for persecuted religious leaders including Saeed Abedini, the American pastor who holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Iran, and was sentenced to eight years in prison in his native country, because he’s a Christian.
The State Department’s annual report precedes an expected update from the department on the list of “countries of particular concern” – the category for the worst religious freedom violators. The secretary of state designated eight countries in August 2011 as CPCs, each of which remains on the list in the 2012 report and includes Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
This article by Steve Ertelt first appeared in LifeNews and features a special project by Faith and Action’s associate missionary, Rev. Pat Mahoney. Rev. Mahoney is the president of the Christian Defense Coalition.
An historic prayer walk will take place soon with participants who hope to keep Ireland abortion free, given that the government is pushing a bill that would open to the door to legal abortions for the first time.
The 100 mile walk between the two capitals will be held on May 11-18, 2013. Rev. Pat Mahoney will be walking with a small group of American pro-life leaders which will be joined by members of the Irish pro-life community along the route.
The pro-life and faith community around the world will be able to participate in this “Global Prayer Event” through Facebook and Ustream. Beginning May 11, people will be able to pray with Rev. Mahoney and his team every day “live” from Ireland at 12:00 P.M. EST. All they have to do is go to: www.facebook.com/RevPatrickMahoney or Ustream under “Prayer Walk to Keep Ireland Abortion Free.”
Ireland is facing its most critical challenge in keeping their nation abortion free as pro-abortion legislation is moving forward quickly in the Irish Parliament, they say. This prayer walk is a reprisal of a walk Rev. Mahoney did 23 years ago seeking God to end sectarian violence in that country between Catholics and Protestants.
Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, states: “As Ireland faces its greatest challenge toward keeping their nation abortion free, it is critical that the pro-life and faith community passionately and urgently seek God in prayer. The greatest resource for bringing about social change an protecting human rights and justice is prayer. Through prayer, we can see God shift and shape history and keep Ireland abortion free. Through technology, we will be able to have people from around the world join us in prayer ‘live’ from Ireland. This ‘Global Prayer Event’ will unite the pro-life community in a way we have never seen before and people will be able to stand with Ireland from their homes, churches, schools and places of employment. 23 years ago I held a similar prayer walk asking God to bring and end to the sectarian violence in Ireland. We are so thankful for the amazing results we have seen in that regard. On May 11-18, I will be praying and asking God keep the violence of abortion out of Ireland and to ensure there are human rights, equality and justice for all.”
Just about everyone will agree that the central problem in the Middle East is the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I’m not entirely convinced of that, only in this sense: Even if, theoretically, a so-called “two-state” solution was achieved, Iran and other enemies of God’s ancient people would quickly come up with another straw man to cover their murderous intentions. But all that is for another day’s discussion. Today, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas provides all the colorful discussion points we need. And Mr. Abbas did it today in one sentence. In a joint news conference with President Barack Obama, Mr. Abbas told Mr. Obama he looks forward to an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Let us pause for a moment. No, make that a pause of 5000 years.
Rev. Rob Schenck was the personal guest of presidential nominee Dr. Suzan D. Johnson Cook at last night’s Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington. Dr. Cook publicly thanked Rev. Schenck and praised the good work that Faith and Action is doing on issues related to religious liberty. To read more about this important evening, click here.
In the wake of the catastrophic human tragedy touching the nation of Japan, Faith and Action President and Lead Missionary Rob Schenck paid a personal visit to the Embassy of Japan in Washington, DC, delivering a letter to Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki, assuring him that American Christians are praying for the Japanese people. Rev. Schenck also laid flowers at a memorial outside the Embassy in tribute to the many who died in the earthquake and tsunami.
Please join us as together we lift the situation in Japan before the throne of grace.
Below is the text of the letter:
March 14, 2011H.E. Ichiro Fujisaki Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan The Embassy of Japan in the United States 2520 Massachusetts Ave., NW Washington, DC 20008
Dear Ambassador Fujisaki,
Please accept my condolences on behalf of the nearly 100,000 members of the National Clergy Council and its affiliate, Faith and Action. These American church leaders represent Christians of every tradition including Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, and Protestant. We, and our congregations around the country assure you of our prayers for the good people of Japan and for the amelioration of their suffering in the aftermath of such an enormous tragedy.
We pledge ourselves in every way to be of assistance to you by offering our friendship, thoughts, prayers, and good wishes, as well as our tangible help through contributions to the aid societies that have already or soon will deploy resources to the stricken areas of your country.
By way of a prayer found in our Holy Scriptures, the Letter of Saint Paul to the Christians at Corinth, Chapter 1, verses 3 – 4, we take this occasion to re-affirm our solidarity with the churches of Japan in their own hour of need–and in their aid and comfort of their fellow citizens:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Very truly yours,
Rev. Robert L. Schenck, D.D.