First Freedom Center Report: Minority Religious Communities at Risk

The First Freedom Center has published a “major report monitoring freedom of religion and conscience,” its second Minority Religious Communities at Risk. Authors of the report were experts / practitioners who were asked to give their views on “factors which most affected the lives and fortunes of members of minority religious communities during 2011.” The authors are Ambassador Akbar Ahmed (Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University), Ambassador Randolph Bell (President of the First Freedom Center), Commissioner Felice Gaer (U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom), Daniel S. Mariaschin (Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith International), Tad Stahnke (Director of Policies and Programs at Human Rights First), and the Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew White (vicar of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad)….

Obama signs new law that includes ban on disruptive picketing of military funerals

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In a ceremony at the White House (President’s remarks), President Obama yesterday [August 6, 2012] signed HR 1627, the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act.  Section 601 of the Act prohibits demonstrations (including picketing, speeches and handbilling) within 300 feet of a military funeral or at the residence of the deceased service member or veteran’s family during the period from 2 hours before to 2 hours after the funeral. It also prohibits activities within 500 feet of a military funeral that willfully impede access to it. The section was presumably in response to widely publicized picketing of military funerals by members of the Westboro Baptist Church who carried signs, which among other things, protested U.S. acceptance of homosexuality.  In a case last year (see prior posting), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Westboro’s activity as protected by the 1st Amendment. The Act signed by the President limits its demonstration ban to individuals who willfully make noise or diversion that intentionally disturbs (or tends to disturb) the peace and good order of the funeral.  In itsWestboro decision, the Supreme Court emphasized that the demonstration at issue in that case did not disrupt the funeral.

Majority of Americans Do Not Believe Religious Liberty is Under Attack

Washington, DC — On the heels of a months-long heated debate on religious liberty, a new national survey finds that a majority (56%) of Americans do NOT believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today. Roughly 4-in-10 (39%) believe religious liberty is under attack.

The new PRRI-RNS Religion News Survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, allowed those who said religious liberty is under attack to explain in their own words why they felt the right of religious liberty is being threatened. Despite the recent heavy media focus on contraceptive coverage in the religious liberty debate, only 6% cited the contraception mandate issue. The most frequently cited reasons were perceptions that religion was being removed from the public square (23%) or that government was interfering with religion (20%).

“Some religious leaders, most prominently Catholic officials, have attempted to define the debate on the Obama administration’s contraceptive coverage mandate as a question of religious liberty, most Americans do not believe religious liberty is under attack today,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “Nearly 6-in-10 Catholics do not believe that religious liberty is being threatened. The only religious group in which a majority believes religious liberty is being threatened in America today is evangelicals.”

This survey also finds those most likely to believe religious liberty is under attack are Republicans, white evangelical Protestants, and Americans age 65 and older.

“Although the debate surrounding the contraception mandate has garnered significant media attention over the last month, it is not at the forefront of Americans minds when they think about threats to religious liberty,”  said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “Rather, the minority of Americans who believe religious liberty is threatened are much more animated by concerns about religion in the public square, such as the issue of teacher-led prayer or public displays of religion in public schools.”

Orthodox Jews worldwide mark end of 7-year Talmud study

East Rutherford, New Jersey (ENInews)—It has been described as a spiritual calling, a labor of love, a rich opportunity to connect with thousands of years of Jewish history and religion. It has also been called a relentless endeavor and a marathon of study. There are no vacations, no shortcuts, Religion News Service reports. For 7 1/2 years, day in and day out, Jews around the world have studied a new double-sided page of the Talmud, the biblical commentary that, written over centuries, serves as a guide to spirituality and practical life. On the evening of 1 August, in what was billed as the largest celebration of shared Jewish learning in history, some 90,000 people crowded into a stadium seven miles west of New York City to read portions of the Talmud’s 2,711th — and final — page. [861 words, ENI-12-0452]

U.S. International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 Issued, 30 July 2012

“Religious freedom provides a cornerstone for every healthy society. It empowers faith-based service. It fosters tolerance and respect among different communities. And it allows nations that uphold it to become more stable, secure and prosperous.”  – Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton

The annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom – the International Religious Freedom Report – describes the status of religious freedom in every country. The report…

Ambassador Cook Presents the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report

“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, and is essential for a stable, peaceful, and thriving society. … Freedom of religion is not just an American right, but the right of all people.  It goes hand-in-hand with freedom of expression, freedom of speech and assembly. And when religious freedom is restricted, all these rights are at risk. And for this reason, religious freedom is often the bellweather for other human rights; it’s the canary in the coal mine….

Format and interface upgrades for 2011 International Religious Freedom Reports

State Department unveils upgrades for 2011 International Religious Freedom Reports

Media Note, Office of the Spokesperson, Washington, DC, 30 July 30, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has transmitted the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report to Congress and released it to the public. This report is a valuable tool for interested citizens, students, researchers, nongovernmental organizations, and governments. The report focuses special attention on key trends such as the impact of political and demographic transitions on religious minorities; the effects of conflict on religious freedom; and the rising tide of anti-Semitism. This year, the Department modernized both the format of the reports and the online user interface.

In keeping with the Secretary’s 21st Century Statecraft Initiative, the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report was redesigned to be more accessible to a broader spectrum of readers. We developed a streamlined format, which now includes a country-specific executive summary and fewer, but clearly illustrative examples of the types of religious freedom problems reported in that country in 2011.

The format of the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report is also easier to read online. The redesigned reports contain clearly marked headings and a table of contents. They can also be shared via social media. Users can now research topics across countries using the Build a Report tool.

To view the new 2011 International Religious Freedom Report visit (or directly, at Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at #IRF11.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on International Religious Freedom

“Where religious freedom exists, so do the others.” – Secretary Hillary Clinton

Religious freedom is under attack around the world, from religious extremists who consider any deviation from their own beliefs as sufficient justification for violence to governments who fall short of their obligations to protect the rights of all their citizens. In the face of these threats, the United States and others face the challenge of how best to protect and promote religious liberty around the world. This task is particularly important at a time when many countries in the Middle East and elsewhere are entering periods of political transition and confronting new questions about the place of religion in politics.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the status of religious freedom around the world in remarks at the Carnegie Endowment to mark the release of the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2011. Carnegie President Jessica Mathews moderated.

Catholic health care group opposed contraception mandate compromise

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

Last Friday, the Catholic Health Association (CHA), which represents more than 2000 Catholic health care organizations and facilities, submitted a comment letter (full text) to the Department of Health and Human Services taking issue with the Obama administration’s proposed compromise to deal with objections of religious organizations to the mandate that health insurance policies cover contraceptive services. CHA’s letter has attracted a good deal of press attention (Washington Post; National Catholic Register) because CHA’s support was important in the original 2009 passage of the Affordable Care Act (see prior posting) and because CHA president Sister Carol Keehan had initially expressed openness to the compromise on contraception coverage.  CHA now proposes a broad exemption from the contraception coverage mandate for all churches, and organizations associated with churches.  It suggests that if the government insists that employees of such organizations have contraception coverage, it should be paid for by the government and provided “without any direct or indirect involvement of religious employers.” [Thanks to Steven H. Sholk for the lead.]

Two appointed to Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

President Obama announced on 26 July 2012 his intention to appoint two new Members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood PartnershipsMaria T. Nagorski and Elder Steven E. Snow.

Maria T. Nagorski:  Maria T. Nagorski is the Executive Director of the nonprofit organization Fair Chance. Fair Chance partners with community-based nonprofits to increase their ability to address issues related to child poverty. Previously, from 1999 to 2007, Ms. Nagorski provided leadership and training services to a variety of organizations, including the United Nations World Food Programme, the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, and the International Youth Foundation. From 1994 to 1999, Ms. Nagorski was the Founder and Executive Director of Center for Youth as Resources, a national organization focused on engaging youth in service, philanthropy, and leadership in their communities.  Concurrently, from 1985 to 1999, she was the Deputy Executive Director of the National Crime Prevention Council. Ms. Nagorski is an active member of Leadership Greater Washington and was awarded a 2010 Purpose Prize Fellowship by Civic Ventures. Ms. Nagorski received a B.A. in History from the University of Rochester.

Elder Steven E. Snow:  Elder Snow currently…

Bishops receive 10-year progress report on clergy sex abuse reforms

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced last week that at its Spring meeting which ended Friday, the National Review Board (NRB), a lay group advising it on handling of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, issued “A Ten Year Progress Report” (full text of June 1, 2012 report). Here are excerpts from the Report:

In 2002, the bishops of the United States approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Ten years later, there has been striking improvement in the Church’s response to and treatment of victims….. 

Perhaps the most important advance for the Church in the last decade is the realization by its leaders that cooperation with legal authorities is in the best interest of the Church and the dioceses/eparchies. Dioceses/eparchies are required to report all allegations of sexual abuse of minors to public authorities and to cooperate with all investigations on all matters of sexual abuse. They are also required to advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities…..

A serious concern of the NRB is complacency or Charter drift – that is, thinking 10 years of action is enough and programs and vigilance can be taken for granted or worse, watered down. While the current trend shows a decrease in clergy sexual abuse, we must never let our guard down. Now is not the time to drift away from the moral requirements of the Charter and the legal requirements of reporting…. 

Study says religious organizations get $71B In tax subsidies and other aid

Howard Friedman, Religlion Clause

A study published in the June/July issue of Free Inquiry magazine titled How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the United States estimates that federal, state and local governments, through tax deductions, exemptions and direct expenditures, subsidize religion in the United States in an amount equal to at least $71 billion per year. Yesterday’s Washington Post reports on the study.

Christian groups protest government’s “two-class” concept for religious organizations

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

Baptist Press reports on a June 11 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from over 140 leaders of Christian churches, educational institutions and other Christian organizations protesting the “two-class concept of religious organizations” that has been created by attempts to accommodate faith-based objections to the Obama administration’s mandate on contraceptive coverage in health insurance policies. (Full text of letter.)  The letter says in part:

[W]e are united in opposition to the creation in federal law of two classes of religious organizations:  churches—considered sufficiently focused inwardly to merit an exemption and thus full protection from the mandate; and faith-based service organizations—outwardly oriented and given a lesser degree of protection.  It is this two-class system that the administration has embedded in federal law via … rules providing for an exemption from the mandate for a narrowly defined set of “religious employers” and … a different “accommodation” for non-exempt religious organizations.

And yet both worship-oriented and service-oriented religious organizations are authentically and equally religious organizations…. We deny that it is within the jurisdiction of the federal government to define, in place of religious communities, what constitutes true religion and authentic ministry…. The scheme honors acts of worship while burdening those whose faith leads them to service in our common life.

Faith groups urge congressional passage of ENDA

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

On Tuesday [14 June 2012], the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions held a hearing on “Equality At Work: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act” (full text of witness statements and video of full hearing). The bill, S. 811, would bar employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  In connection with the hearing, 37 faith groups released a letter they had sent to each member of the Committee urging passage of the bill, saying “we cannot tolerate arbitrary discrimination against millions of Americans just because of who they are.” The letter, at the same time, emphasized that

ENDA broadly exempts from its scope any religious organization, thereby ensuring that religious institutions will not be compelled to violate the religious precepts on which they are founded, whether or not we may agree with those precepts. In so doing, ENDA respects the protections for religious institutions afforded by the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964….

North Dakota voters defeat religious freedom restoration amendment

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

Voters in North Dakota yesterday soundly defeated Initiated Constitutional Measure No. 3 that would have placed a broad version of state religious freedom restoration laws in the state’s constitution.  With all votes counted, the results were 107,680 (64.04%) No; and 60,465 (35.96%) Yes. (Official results).

The proposed constitutional amendment…

House hearing held on bill clarifying VA’s role in veterans’ funeral ceremonies

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

On June 6, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held hearings on a series of bills, one of which was HR 2720 (full text) which is designed to clarify the VA’s role in military funerals.  Witnesses on Panel 3 and the submission of Rep. Poe at the focus on this bill, which was prompted by a dispute last year over rules at the National Cemetery in Houston, including allegations that the Department of Veterans Affairs restricted religious content at ceremonies. (See prior posting.) The government claimed that the VA was merely attempting to honor the wishes of families. (See prior posting.) The bill would require the VA to make certain that a chapel displaying religious symbols chosen by the family is available at national cemeteries, and that access to the cemetery is provided to honor guards when requested by the family.  It also provides:

The Congress reaffirms the inviolable individual zone of privacy that each American possesses, including the deeply private act of choosing the content and creed of an individual’s funeral, memorial service, or ceremony… [N]o official of the Federal Government, including the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, may interfere with the content and creed of the funeral, memorial service, or ceremony of a deceased individual, as expressed by the last will and testament of the individual or as determined by the family or agent of the individual….

The Washington Post reports on some of the questions raised by lawmakers during the hearing. [Thanks to Don Byrd for the lead.]

State Department’s new format for human rights report triggers partisan debate on religious liberty

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

On May 24, the State Department released the 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in a new streamlined format that includes a country-specific executive summary and examples of the significant human rights problems reported in each country.  The report can be accessed for each country, or a customized report across any number of countries by human rights topic can be created online. A report by CNS News this week illustrates, however, that the new format has become part of the partisan battle over the Obama administration’s commitment to religious liberty. In the new format, for each country under the section on “Respect for Civil Liberties,” the subtopic of “Freedom of Religion” reads:  See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at According to CNS, some are claiming that this move is part of an effort by the Obama administration to downplay international religious freedom, and particularly to hide violence directed at Christians and other minorities in Muslim nations in Africa and the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.  The cross-referenced State Department religious freedom report only covers the period through December 2010.

New science may modify debate on contraceptive coverage mandate

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

Surprising scientific disclosures in a lengthy New York Times article today could change the debate over the Obama administration’s health insurance contraception coverage mandate. The free exercise challenges to the mandate have been given special force because the mandate covers Plan B and Ella– so-called morning-after pills– which until now had been thought by most of the public to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the wall of the uterus.  That is seen by many objectors as equivalent to abortion. (Background.) The Times discloses however that this is not the way the morning-after pill works.  Instead it delays ovulation.  The article traces how the information on preventing implantation came to appear on FDA-required labels. However, Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says: “So far what I see is an unresolved debate and some studies on both sides….”

Professor Mary Ann Glendon appointed USCIRF Commissioner

WASHINGTON, DC – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on May 23, 2012 announced his appointment of Mary Ann Glendon to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

“USCIRF welcomes Mary Ann Glendon,” said Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, Executive Director of USCIRF. “Given her remarkable depth of knowledge, experience, and commitment, I am confident that she will be a great asset to our Commission and its mandate, helping us advance the cherished right of freedom of religion or belief around the world and support its integration into our country’s foreign policy…

Reverend William J. Shaw Appointed to Second Term as USCIRF Commissioner

On May 11, 2012, President Obama announced his appointment of the Reverend William J. Shaw to his second term on USCIRF. President Obama appointed Reverend Shaw on June 2010 to serve his first term. Reverend Shaw has served as Pastor of the White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia since 1956. Reverend Shaw served as President of the National Baptist Convention, USA Inc. from 1999 to 2009.   He currently sits on the Board of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and has served as President of The Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Philadelphia and Vicinity, The Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia, and the Union Theological Seminary National Alumni Association.  From 1981 through 1994, he served as Director of the Ministers’ Division of the National Congress of Christian Education. 

Elliott Abrams Appointed USCIRF Commissioner

On May 15, 2012, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced his appointment of Elliott Abrams to USCIRF. Mr. Abrams was a Commission member for three years beginning in 1999, serving as chair from 2000 to 2001. Elliott Abrams is a lawyer and foreign policy expert who served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  From 2005 to 2009 Mr. Abrams served President Bush as Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy.  Mr. Abrams has held many senior positions in the White House and at the Department of State.  He is currently a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.

Sam Gejdenson Appointed USCIRF Commissioner

The U.S. Congress has appointed the Honorable Sam Gejdenson to serve as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recommended Mr. Gejdenson. 

 “USCIRF welcomes Representative Gejdenson as our newest incoming Commissioner,” said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair.  He will make significant contributions to our work on behalf of the cherished right of freedom of religion or belief and its fuller integration into U.S. foreign policy and national security.”&nbsp…

Dr. Robert P. George and Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser Appointed USCIRF Commissioners

March 26, 2012 | by USCIRF

The U.S. Congress has appointed two individuals, Dr. Robert P. George and Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, to serve as Commissioners on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Comprised of nine commissioners, USCIRF monitors and advocates for religious freedom abroad wherever that right is being abused. USCIRF also offers policy solutions to improve conditions…

US Supreme Court and ECtHR Judges Meet in Washington DC

The US Department of State and George Washington University Law School jointly organizedg a high-level conference in which several US Supreme Court justices met with several European Court of Human Rights Judges. The conference was entitled ‘Judicial Process and the Protection of Rights: The US Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights’ and too place from 29 February to 2 March. Supreme Court Justices participating were Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor…

Katrina Lantos Swett Appointed USCIRF Commissioner

Lantos Foundation Media Release – 28 March 2012

The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice is pleased to announce that Katrina Lantos Swett has been appointed to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The appointment was made on Monday, March 26th, 2012 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The USCIRF was created by Congress as part of the International…

Conversations with America: Religion and Foreign Policy

On 23 January 2012, Suzan Johnson Cook, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, was joined by Dr. Chris Seiple, President of the Institute for Global Engagement, in a discussion of “Religion and Foreign Policy,” as part of the State Department’s online video series “Conversations with America.” 

Dr. Seiple and Ambassador Cook, among others, serve as Co-Chairs to the Religion and Foreign Policy working group of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Dialogue…

Mourning the Passing of Human Rights Champion Abdelfattah Amor

The International Center for Law and Religion Studies joins the international religious freedom community in mourning the death on 2 January 2012 of Tunisian human rights advocate Professor Abdelfattah Amor. Professor Amor served from 1993 to 2004 as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. At the time of his death, Dr. Amor was a member of the UN Human Rights Committee, and had recently been appointed as president of Tunisia’s National Commission for the Investigation of Corruption and Bribery….

Hosanna-Tabor “Ministerial Exception” Headlines

“This is a huge win for religious liberty. The court has unanimously confirmed the right of churches to select their own ministers and religious leaders. It has unanimously held that the plaintiff in this case was a minister for purposes of the rule. It has unanimously held that the courts cannot inquire into whether the church had religious reasons for its decisions concerning a minister. The longstanding unanimity in the lower courts has now been confirmed by unanimity in the Supreme Court.” – Douglas Laycock, Counsel for the Petitioner

29 January 2012. The Supreme Court has shown unity, but little guidance. (Robert Barnes, The High Court, The Washington Post

Religious and belief communities discussed at OSCE human rights conference

Religious and belief communities should be granted quick, simple and non-discriminatory access to legal personality, said participants at a meeting on the margins of the OSCE’s annual human rights conference in Warsaw on 2 October 2012.

Representatives of civil society and religious communities at the meeting noted that in the 1975 Helsinki Document, all participating States committed themselves to “recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief”.

“Although this means that religious or belief communities are not obliged to seek official recognition for their activities, they do often need recognition of their legal personality as a practical matter: to be able to open bank accounts, enter into contractual obligations and purchase real estate, for example,” said Robert-Jan Uhl, ODIHR’s Adviser on Freedom…

Presidential Proclamation – Religious Freedom Day, 16 January 2012

For Immediate Release                                              January 13, 2012


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For nearly four centuries, men and women have immigrated to America’s shores in pursuit of religious freedom.  Hailing from diverse backgrounds and faiths, countless settlers have shared a simple aspiration — to practice their beliefs free from prejudice and persecution.  In 1786, the Virginia General…

United States News and Opinions

5 April 2012. Pew Forum Weekly Religion News Update.

4 April 2012. Lecture at Baylor to delve into dangers of mixing religion, politics. (Mallory Hisler, The Baylor Lariat)

4 April 2012. Religion poses workplace challenges. (Steve Jordan,

3 April 2012. Alabama Voices: Alabama’s stand for religious liberty. (Luther…

HHS Contraception Mandate and Religious Freedom

4 April 2012. Hannah Smith, Hunger Games, and the HHH mandate. (RJ Moeller podcast, A Voice in the Wilderness)

3 April 2012. Seven states file suit against Obama administration’s contraception mandate. (Loren Heal, Heartlander)

2 April 2012. Will the Obamacare decision influence the HHS mandate? (Mark Rienzi, National Review Online)

26 March 2012. The Constitution vs. Obamacare. (Editorial, National Review Online)

26 March 2012. Can religious freedom be saved? (An online symposium). (National Review Online)

25 March 2012. Guest column: The…