Friday, December 14, 2018

Under Trump, U.S. Finally Blacklists Pakistan for Religious Freedom Violations

For 16 consecutive years, the State Department under three administrations has rejected advice from an independent statutory watchdog to blacklist Pakistan for religious freedom violations – until now.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Tuesday that he has designated the world’s second most-populous Islamic nation as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) for egregious abuses of religious freedom.

Under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), the federal government identifies countries that have engaged in or tolerated ”systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom” as CPCs, a designation that provides for sanctions or other measures designed to encourage improvements.

Pompeo also named nine other CPCs – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Every year since 2002 the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a body established by the IRFA to advise the executive and legislative branches, has called for CPC designation for Pakistan.

And each year since 2002 the State Department has declined, despite continuing concerns over arguably the world’s most notorious blasphemy laws, which have disproportionately targeted non-Muslim minorities.

No reasons have been given for disregarding the annual recommendation, but Pakistan since 9/11 has been viewed as an important – if often truculent – ally in the war against terrorism. For that reason it has been a major recipient of U.S. military and other aid, receiving more than $33 billion in direct aid or as reimbursements for counterterrorism efforts.

(That, too, has shifted under the Trump administration. Last January the Pentagon said $300 million in aid was being withheld until Pakistan ensured terrorists no longer found safe haven on its soil. Eight months later the suspended funds were “reprogrammed” to other priorities.)

USCIRF Chairman Tenzin Dorjee on Tuesday welcomed Pompeo’s announcement, and singled out the Pakistan decision.

“We are particularly gratified that, after years of documenting systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom in Pakistan, the State Department has finally added that country to the list of the world’s worst violators for the first time,” Dorjee said.

Pakistani governments have long resisted calls to annul or amend the blasphemy laws.

Ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom Sam Brownback told reporters Tuesday that of those incarcerated around the world for blasphemy offenses, “half of them are in Pakistani prisons.”

The laws were spotlighted again recently after Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

Six weeks have passed, but Asia Bibi’s fate remains uncertain, as authorities refuse to allow her to travel to safety abroad, to escape Muslim radicals demanding her death.

Brownback said the administration “continue[s] to watch very carefully what’s happening to Asia Bibi.”

Christians are not the only minority persecuted in Pakistan. Ahmadis are members of a Muslim sect considered heretical by mainstream Muslims, and Pakistan’s penal code criminalizes Ahmadi worship.

Brownback noted the plight of Ahmadis, and added the Pakistan’s government also “often fails to hold accountable perpetrators of killings and violence against members of religious minorities targeted on account of their religious beliefs or affiliations.”

Waiving sanctions

Pakistan Christian Congress president Nazir Bhatti welcomed the U.S. move and urged other Western democracies also to apply pressure on Pakistan to improve.

Bhatti, who is based in the U.S., said thousands of Christian and Hindus have fled Pakistan for safety in neighboring countries where they face “miserable conditions as refugees.”

He also accused the government of clamping down on his group and its affiliated Pakistan Christian Post publication, blocking access to both websites inside Pakistan in a bid to stop a “powerful voice” advocating for religious freedom. Attempts to access them bring up the message, “This website is prohibited in the territory of Pakistan.”

Despite the concerns, Pakistan’s CPC designation will not have an immediate practical effect: Brownback said sanctions against Islamabad would be waived for “national interest” reasons.

Of the other nine CPCs, sanctions against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have also been waived, for the same reasons.

(Despite appeals from the USCIRF, Saudi Arabia has received a pass since first being listed as a CPC in 2004, with administrations each year invoking annual “national interest” waivers.)

When Congress reauthorized IRFA in 2016, lawmakers voiced frustration over what many saw as the overuse of presidential waivers.

The reauthorization legislation limits waivers to 180 days, after which time they may be extended provided the president reports to Congress either that the government concerned “has ceased the violations,” or that “the important national interest of the United States requires the exercise of such waiver authority.”

It also expresses the sense of Congress that “ongoing waivers do not fulfill the purposes” of the IRFA.


Knights of Columbus Applaud Genocide Relief Law Signed by Trump

The Knights of Columbus, which has been aiding religious minorities persecuted by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, attended a White House ceremony today where President Donald Trump signed into law the "Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018." The legislation is similar to past efforts to aid the survivors of the Armenian genocide and the Jewish holocaust.

“The legislation signed today again reminds us of America’s earlier efforts to aid victims of genocide – Christian communities targeted by Ottomans a century ago and Jewish survivors of Shoah," said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in a press release.

“With the legislation signed today, America speaks with bold moral clarity and political unanimity,” he said.

According to the Catholic fraternal organization, "Over the last four years, the Knights have allocated more than $20 million to aid Christians and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria to provide food, shelter and clothing. Those efforts also included $2 million to rebuild the liberated Iraqi town of Karamles that had been largely demolished by ISIS."

The Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act is designed "to provide relief for victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes who are members of religious and ethnic minority groups in Iraq and Syria, for accountability for perpetrators of these crimes, and other purposes."

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development will have the authority to provide financial and material aid to the religious minorities through their offices and through non-governmental organizations, including faith-based organizations. They will also be allowed to conduct criminal investigations; develop indigenous investigative offices; and collect and preserve evidence.

Also, "the State Department shall encourage foreign governments to identify and prosecute individuals who are suspected of committing such crimes, including members of foreign terrorist organizations operating in Iraq or Syria," reads the legislation. The State Department is further authorized to provide reports on the investigations/prosecutions to Congress.

In March 2016, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution declaring “the atrocities perpetrated by ISIL [Islamic State] against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.” Then-Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed that resolution and, in July 2017, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson affirmed it.

In April 2016, the British House of Commons voted unanimously to declare the actions by the Islamic State genocide, despite the opposition of then-Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party administration. Numerous other governments have declared ISIS's actions against Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims as genocidal.

In December 2016, the Knights of Columbus traveled with Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) to Iraq on a fact-finding trip about religious persecution. In January 2017, Rep. Smith introduced H.R.390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act.

The legislation passed the House in 2017 and in the Senate, a reconciled version, in November 2018.

Given the genocidal attacks by ISIS, "the number of Christians living in Iraq has dropped from an estimated 800,000 to 1,400,000 in 2002 to fewer than 250,000 in 2017," states the new law. "[T]he number of Yazidis living in Iraq has fluctuated from 500,000 in 2013, to between 350,000 and 400,000 in 2016, and between 600,000 and 750,000 in 2017."

The Knights of Columbus advised the USAID in October on how "religious minorities are to be assisted in the rebuilding and stabilization of their communities," and they "also worked in conjunction with the U.S. government to de-escalate tensions between the Kurdistan and Iraqi governments that threatened a recently rebuilt Christian town," reads the press release.


Christians Fight Fiercest Ever Attacks on Christmas

The War on Christmas is very real. Everyone has seen the massive attempt to take Christ out of Christmas. There are sparkle trees, X-mas cards and Happy Holidays. Major retailers jumped on the bandwagon and filled their advertising with joyless celebrations of an unnamed winter solstice holiday. Merry Christmas has become the war cry for millions of Americans who have fought against this politically correct mutation of the birth of the Christ Child.

The main thrust of the War on Christmas was not a direct attack but the deliberate ignoring of the feast. There was a big reaction to this offensive. Millions of Christians nationwide protested against this new winter holiday forced upon them. They organized boycotts, petitions and complaints nationwide targeting the culprits on many media. The public outcry was so great that gradually many retailers, including mighty Walmart, restored real Christmas themes to the stores. The issue even made it into the presidential elections. One fulfilled promise of the 2016 presidential campaign was the return of Merry Christmas in the White House and the return of the traditional crib scene that was unused the Christmas before.   

For all practical purposes, the War on Christmas 1.0 is over. Christians have won an uneasy peace over those of questionable goodwill. There are still obstinate retailers who continue the savage practice of ignoring Christmas. Many still celebrate a winter holiday. However, for the most part, this phase is over with a reluctant admission that Christmas exists. Secular media have even gone into denial mode by saying that there never was a war against Christmas, save in the imaginations of overzealous Christians.

A New Phase in the Old War Against Christmas

Now, a new phase in the war on Christmas has appeared. It is much more insidious than the first one. The earlier version made the mistake of trying to ignore Christmas and thus eliminate its mention and presence in the public square. It had the contrary effect of galvanizing opposition into shouting out Merry Christmas all the louder.

This new second phase is much more brutal because it recognizes Christmas and seeks to either destroy, caricature or deform it. Those who oppose Christmas now weaponize it by using the feast against itself to further political and cultural agendas contrary to the meaning of Christmas. Activists are arranging their “celebrations” or spoiling the celebrations of Christians.  

Politicizing Christmas

There are, for example, people who are displaying outside nativity scenes with two Josephs as an obvious promotion of homosexual lifestyles using a deformation of the Christmas story.

In Dedham, Mass., Saint Susanna Parish is displaying a traditional nativity set. However, there is a cage around the Infant Jesus to symbolize restrictions to immigration. There is also a fence separating the Holy Family and the Magi Kings with a sign reading “Deportation.” The parish is politicizing Christmas to promote its pro-immigrant position.

Removing Decades-Old Displays

Another front of the new War against Christmas is the dismantling of traditional Christmas displays in communities across America. Atheists have taken it upon themselves to suppress decades-old displays that community members have enjoyed for generations.

The Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists, for example, is demanding that a school district remove a large Three Wise Men display from the roof of the Newaygo Elementary School in Newaygo, Michigan. Local citizens are putting up the fight for the simple figures that were made in the forties by students. They see them as a symbol of the community and the way things have always been.

The activists, however, see things differently. With all the fervor of communist Chinese during the Cultural Revolution, they have set themselves up as a censorship board to erase all such symbols in the state. One activist even went so far as to say that the local people will get used to not having the Wise Men like citizens in other cities where Christmas displays have been taken away.

Similar censorship efforts are taking place in Ravenna, Ohio. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has flooded the offices of city officials asking them to take down a nativity scene organized by a local woman. The scene has enjoyed support from the population. One citizen pointed out that the city-sponsored Halloween displays, celebrating a pagan holiday on city property. Now outside groups are pressuring the city to ban the Christ Child even though the sponsor has followed all the rules.

Other cities across the nation are facing similar challenges by groups like the American Atheists Legal Center and others. In fact, the placing of nativity scenes on public property is legal and constitutional. Court decisions support the initiatives of citizens to do so provided rules are followed.

The Satanic Offensive

Perhaps the most egregious attacks on Christmas are those involving Satanic themes. 

Across the country, Satanic groups are forcing upon the public their mutations of the feast. They take advantage of public square celebrations of the real Christmas to introduce their own decorations, tree and “manger” scenes laden with Satanic symbols and themes. They will often insist that these horrific displays be placed side by side with true depictions. Most of these attacks have no other purpose than to challenge Christmas since there is no comparable Satanic holiday at this time.

The Chicago branch of The Satanic Temple, for example, has placed a display next to Christian decorations and trees in the Illinois Capitol rotunda called “Snaketivity.” The work consists of an arm holding an apple, with a snake coiled around it. There is also a sign that reads “Knowledge Is The Greatest Gift.” The display is a parody of the Incarnation that redeemed mankind from Original Sin lost in paradise. 

A group called Satanic Bay Area is displaying a Satanic-themed Christmas tree in Cesar Chavez Park in San Jose, Calif. The tree has 140 decorations, including skulls, spiders and Pentagram-themed ornaments inside a family-theme Christmas tree display. It is all part of a constant attempt to mainstream Satanic themes and presence in the public square.

The incarnation signals the coming of Christ who would vanquish the power of Satan in the world. The placing of Satanic symbols next to and equal to those of Christians seeks to deny Christ’s victory. 

Protest and Prayer: Effective Means to Fight

The most effective way to fight the War on Christmas 2.0 is to protest against the efforts of those who no longer ignore Christmas but seek to distort, suppress and ridicule this most glorious feast. Organized protests, rallies and petitions can be extremely effective in affirming the right to celebrate Christmas in the public square.

Last year, for example, over 200 faithful Catholics in Florida converged on Boca Raton’s Sanborn Park Square to protest a Satanic “Christmas” display next to a Catholic nativity scene. One of the “decorations” had the slogan, “in Satan We Trust.” The protesters soon learned that the display would not be appearing largely due to their protest and a massive 50,000 name petition.

These victories are possible because those who oppose Christmas seek validation and acceptance for their extreme positions, whether they be atheistic or Satanic. When uproars make their positions unpopular, they find their efforts are working to defeat their purpose and are forced to retreat. Moreover, when good Christians defend their faith in the public square, it only serves to energize reactions to the unpopular and horrific displays. Heaven often blesses their efforts with unexpected victories.

Indeed, the War On Christmas now intensifies. It should be no surprise since the Church is Militant and is always fighting against the ways of the world, flesh and devil. The Christ Child Himself was persecuted at the time of His Birth. Christmas is a call for all those who adore Christ to defend Him and celebrate His victory over sin. 


Australian PM's stand on freedom of religion

Scott Morrison will take a ­religious discrimination act to the next election, in a major change to commonwealth discrimination laws that will introduce, for the first time, stand-alone legal protections for Australians of faith.

The Australian can reveal the Prime Minister will today unveil the long-awaited review into ­religious freedoms conducted by former Liberal attorney-general Philip Ruddock and accept its centrepiece recommendation for a religious discrimination act.

The overhaul is aimed at ensuring religious discrimination is treated as seriously as racial or sexual discrimination, and will not pose curbs on free speech by avoiding replication of controversial provisions in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Draft legislation for the shake-up will be released early next year and will include a provision for the creation of a “freedom of religion” commissioner to sit within the Australian Human Rights ­Commission.

The government will seek feedback on the draft legislation, which will make it unlawful to ­discriminate on the basis of an ­individual’s religious beliefs, ­before taking the overhaul to next year’s election.

In a key step, the government has also moved to defuse the parliamentary impasse over the treatment of gay students within religious schools by referring the issue to the Australian Law Reform Commission for ­review.

The Prime Minister told The Australian last night he was taking action because religion and faith were central to the lives of millions of Australians, their families and their communities.

“Australia is a secular democracy but that does not mean that Australians are a godless people,” Mr Morrison said. “Australians have a diversity of faith and religious backgrounds and these should all be respected.

“This is an essential part of multiculturalism, in the same way no Australian should be discriminated against for their ethnicity or sexuality. Protecting freedom of belief is central to the liberty of each and every Australian.”

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, yesterday said a religious discrimination act was necessary because society had changed. “There have been attempts in some states to ban the sacrament of confession,” he said.

“There’s moves to remove the few existing religious liberty protections from our schools.

“There was an attempt to prosecute the ­Tasmanian Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous for upholding Catholic teachings about marriage.

“A lot of other supporters of traditional marriage felt that they were, one way or another, discriminated against — including being sacked just for saying they supported traditional marriage.”

Archbishop Fisher said Australians used to be “live and let live” on religious matters. “Our neighbours could have a different religion to us,” he said. “We gave each other the space to be different. But lately there has been a hard-edged secularism that wants to stamp out religion from public life. So that’s why I think there are calls today for religious discrimin­ation legislation.”

The government has accepted absolutely or in-principle all 20 of the Ruddock review’s recommendations and will move to implement some changes more quickly than others. Mr Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter will today announce their intention to accept 14 recommendations immediately.

The Coalition government will seek to enact these recommen­dations through legislation when parliament resumes in February and views them as uncontroversial. They include measures such as an amendment to the Charities Act ensuring groups that uphold a traditional view of marriage are not stripped of their charitable status.

The Australian has confirmed that five of the Ruddock review recommendations dealing with exemptions in the Fair Work Act and existing anti-discrimination laws will be referred to the ALRC. These include the recommen­dations relating to students and teachers at faith-based schools.

Mr Porter said the ALRC would be charged with devising a mechanism to balance the rights of gay students with the rights of religious schools, unless Bill Shorten accepted key government amendments.

“Labor’s refusal so far to accept religious-based schools should be allowed to impose what are known as rules of general application, or school rules, such as a requirement for all students to attend chapel, meant this issue could not be dealt with by parliament before the end of the sitting year,” Mr Porter said.

“If Labor is able to support the government’s amendments to ensure religious schools can educate within the doctrine and tenets of their faith, then this issue could be dealt with in the first sitting days of 2019.”

He also said there was no reason for any political party to oppose the introduction of a religious discrimination act. “I don’t see what arguments you would legitimately raise as to why we should protect people from discrimin­ation based on their age, their race, their sex or the fact of a disability but not similarly protect them by virtue of the fact that they are a ­religious person,” Mr Porter said.

He said the government would not make it unlawful to “offend, insult or humiliate” someone on the basis of their religion — a move that would have replicated section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and has been attacked as an impediment to free speech.

Religious freedom expert Mark Fowler said the protection of ­people against discrimination on the basis of religious belief was “the missing piece in the constellation of Australian equality legislation … Of the five main equality rights recognised in the inter­national law to which Australia is a signatory, being race, age, disability, sex (including sexual orientation) and religion, only religion fails to receive protection in commonwealth law.”



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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