The administration should apply new sanctions in response to religious liberty violations rather than redesignate ones already in existence, Smith said. It also should tie foreign aid to a country's religious freedom status, he said. Congress attached such conditions to $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt, but Clinton waived them this year, he said.
Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, commended the report, adding, "The next step, and real challenge, is convincing policymakers that prioritizing religious freedom through our bilateral and multilateral relationships is both a moral imperative and serves our national interests. The other challenge is convincing foreign governments to make needed improvements."
Swett echoed Smith's request for the State Department to designate "countries of particular concern (CPCs)" quickly. For now, the State Department continued with the same CPC list announced in September of last year. The eight on the list are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. CPC designation is reserved for the world's worst violators of religious liberty.
In the report's executive summary, the State Department included the following observations regarding religious freedom in 2011:
-- Governments such as those of Bahrain, Iraq, Nigeria and Russia reacted to conflict by failing to "distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities" and thereby limited religious liberty.
-- Authorities in such countries as Indonesia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia "increasingly used blasphemy, apostasy, and defamation of religion laws" to restrict the rights of religious minorities.
-- A "rising tide" of anti-Semitism afflicted such countries as Egypt, France, Hungary and Venezuela.
President Obama and other administration officials urged governments to protect religious freedom -- and sought to assist them -- in countries such as Burma and Egypt that underwent political change last year, according to the report.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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