n July 22, the United States State Department issued a special report titled, United States Policies in Support of Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians.
In a foreword to the report, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright affirmed that Religious liberty, the freedom to proclaim a religious identity and practice it without fear, is an aspiration and an inalienable right of people everywhere. When practiced with tolerance, it can be one of the keys to a stable, productive society.
This view was echoed by President Clinton, who said that Americas commitment to religious tolerance has empowered us to achieve an atmosphere of understanding, trust, and respect in a society of diverse cultures and religious traditions. And today, much of the world still looks to the United States as the champion of religious liberty.
Released by the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs, the report notes that [B]oth governments and members of different communities in many parts of the world continue to persecute religious groups. In some instances, religious persecution is due to governments that do not tolerate independent thought, belief systems, or freedom of association. In other instances, political leaders have exploited religious and ethnic differences for self-serving and sometimes violent political ends.
The U.S. Government has expressed concern to the German Government about efforts
to monitor religious organizations.
Among countries perhaps more traditionally thought of as prone to human rights violations, Germany again featured prominently in the State Departments criticism, citing examples of intolerance and discrimination against a variety of religious groups. One Christian Church is reported as having been subjected over several years to vandalism, threats of violence, and public harassment or scrutiny by sect commissioners. The report notes with irony that such sect commissioners are supposed to educate the public and thus prevent, rather than provoke, such incidents.
Discrimination against the Jehovahs Witnesses is also addressed, as well as a decision by German politicians to place the Church of Scientology under observation by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
The U.S. Government has expressed concern to the German Government about efforts to monitor religious organizations, the report states. The U.S. Government also has told the German Government that it would be concerned if persons were placed under observation or denied rights on the basis of mere membership in a group, rather than suspicion of illegal acts by individuals.
Echoing the sentiments of those who have recognized the danger of ignoring intolerance because it is only being suffered by others, the report states that The struggle for religious liberty does not end when our own freedom is assured. As Thomas Jefferson put it 200 years ago, it behooves all who value liberty of conscience for themselves to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or that case may, by change of circumstance, become their own.
While many German politicians have long established their deafness to such wisdom, it is fortunate that an increasing number of citizens are both hearing and seeing the true state of affairs in todays