Washington D.C., Nov 16, 2012 / 03:04 am (CNA).- The protection of religious freedom worldwide is so essential to democracy and prosperity that it should be considered an issue of “national security” to the U.S. government, says a former diplomat.
“Religious freedom is buried in the bureaucracy and so people understand this is not a priority for us,” Dr. Tom Farr, senior fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion Peace and World Affairs, said Nov. 14.
Farr, who spoke as part of the Family Research Council’s “Cry of the Martyrs” webcast and served as State Department’s first Director of the Office of International Religious Freedom, said that the U.S. needs to implement policies and provide resources to support religious freedom throughout the world.
Created 14 years ago, the Office of International Religious Freedom works to promote religious freedom as a “core objective of U.S. foreign policy,” but Farr said the current administration, as well as its predecessors, has largely fallen short in promoting this issue as foreign policy.
“That needs to change if we’re going to have an impact on persecuted Christians and others around the world,” he said. Protecting religious freedom abroad is “in our interest” since doing so can help emerging democracies to grow beyond just one generation.
“The point is religious freedom can lead to economic development, religious freedom can lead to political development,” Farr said, “There’s plenty of history and plenty of data today that suggests this.”
Even still, Farr said he’s concerned that “our government doesn’t pay much attention to this.”
During his remarks, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said the persecution of Christians is “on the rise, not on the decline” with 160,000 Christians “seriously persecuted” for their beliefs last year.
One of the biggest threats to religious freedom is “Islamic extremism” which he said has not been challenged enough to the extent that it should be by the Obama administration.
In Iran, for example, Vitter said the current administration has “not been aggressive at all in pushing back against” the growing trend of Christian persecution.
Vitter recommended that Americans raise awareness about persecution, such as in the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Christian who was sentenced to death for his faith, but released in September due to international outcry calling for his freedom.
Todd Nettleson, director of media development for Voice of the Martyrs, called on Americans to sign a petition calling for the release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani mother sentenced to death for insulting the
Prophet Muhammad by defending her Christian faith at work in 2010.
In Nigeria, Emmanuel Ogebe of The Jubilee Campaign, said that despite the “persecution on steroids” Christians in his country are experiencing at the hands of Boko Haram – a radical Islamist organization – the U.S. government will not label the group as a terrorists and has failed to list proper data regarding the attacks in State Department reports.
“There’s a systematic desire not to label it as what it is,” Ogebe, who is also a Christian and lawyer, said. “They will not concede that Christians are being attacked.”
He raised the point that although Boko Haram attacked three cities throughout Nigeria on Christmas Day in 2011, only one was recorded in the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.
Ogebe said he knows that data is incorrect because a family member attends one of the churches that was bombed and “anyone who Googles the Christmas Day attacks will see three cities were attacked.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, encouraged support for persecuted Christians through prayer and by petitioning the government to take more action in supporting religious freedom worldwide.
“…we as individual believers in this country can take a stand in standing with our brothers and sisters that are being persecuted around the world, and then we can get our government to do the same,” he said.