1. U.S. highlights ISIS in religious freedom report.

By Anne Gearan and Carol Morello, The Washington Post, August 16, 2017, Pg. A2

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighted abuses committed by the Islamic State group and Iran as he released a new survey Tuesday of religious rights and freedoms around the world.

The first global report on the status of religious freedoms issued under President Trump is critical of U.S. adversaries and allies alike. Tillerson called out some important partners, such as Bahrain, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in brief remarks introducing the annual report, which Congress has mandated since 1998.

He devoted the most attention to the Islamic State, however, accusing the group of targeted, religiously motivated atrocities against Christians and minority sects. The Obama administration had accused the Islamic State of genocide, and Tillerson endorsed that position Tuesday.

“ISIS has and continues to target members of multiple religions and ethnicities for rape, kidnapping, enslavement and death,” Tillerson said, using one acronym for the group that holds territory in Iraq and Syria. “ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims,” as well as ethnic cleansing.

The new International Religious Freedom Report covers 2016, before the Trump presidency, but conclusions and decisions about what to highlight were reached under the current administration.

“Religious persecution and intolerance remains far too prevalent. Almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion,” Tillerson said. “Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root.”


2. Verdict on first religious freedom report under Trump: Great rhetoric, what do we do?

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, August 16, 2017

To say that Catholic leaders, both in the United States and Rome, have their issues on a variety of fronts with President Donald Trump would be to raise understatement to the level of art. Yet one area where, so far, there’s been a basic meeting of minds, at least rhetorically, is on the importance of promoting and defending religious freedom.

In part because of that, release of the first U.S. State Department International Freedom Report in the era of Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday aroused more-than-usual levels of curiosity, especially among people eager to see if there would be any dramatic departure or new direction.

On balance, advocates of religious freedom found a fair bit to like.

Above all, many said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s unwavering language on ISIS as a perpetrator of genocide marked a significant advance. Former Secretary of State John Kerry had declared ISIS guilty of genocide too, but with the caveat that it was a “personal” belief.

Tillerson, however, said it was an official State Department finding, after what he called the “application of law to the facts at hand.” ISIS, Tillerson said, is “clearly responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

There were also, however, elements of the report that left some disappointed.

Most basically, in the eyes of most veteran observers, is that the latest edition of the religious freedom report still leaves unanswered the question that’s haunted the enterprise since it began in 1998: Now that we’ve identified the problem, what are we going to do about it?

Many observers say that if Trump or anybody else is truly serious about making religious freedom a “cornerstone” of American foreign policy, it would mean at least three things.

First, they say, it would mean an occasional willingness to impose meaningful sanctions on offending parties.

Second, religious-freedom-as-cornerstone would mean taking seriously, as Tillerson repeated on Tuesday, that religious freedom isn’t just a moral imperative, but a national security priority.

Third, observers say a real focus on religious freedom would also mean serious efforts to aid victims of persecution when it occurs, and also to deploy American influence going forward so they’re not put in harm’s way again.


3. Report: Militants commit genocide in Middle East: Group targets Christians, Yazidis.

By Nicole Ault, The Washington Times, August 16, 2017, Pg. A8

The jihadist terror group Islamic State is engaged in a policy of genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the areas it controls in the Middle East, according to the State Department’s latest annual assessment of the state of religious freedom around the world.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, in brief remarks Tuesday introducing the first religious freedom report issued by the Trump administration, said that ISIS genocide targeted Christians, Yazidis and even Shia Muslims since the terror group seized territory in Iraq and Syria following its rise in 2014. Mr. Tillerson, who did not take questions from reporters, said the genocide determination was made to “remove any ambiguity” about the extent of ISIS’s violations.

According to a separate report released by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in April 2017, the status of international religious freedom “is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations.”

The latest survey, issued every year in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, looks at the state of religious freedom in 199 countries and territories. The report is designed to inform foreign policy decisions but not to rank other nations, Michael Kozak, head of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, told reporters Tuesday.


4. India anti-conversion laws are outrageous: Economic freedom atrophies where religious liberty is hampered.

By Joseph D’Souza, Moderating Bishop of the Good Shepherd Church and Associated Ministries of India, President of the All India Christian Council, and the Founder and International President of the Dalit Freedom Network, The Washington Times, August 16, 2017, Pg. B4, Opinion

Early this month, the state government in Jharkhand, northern India, introduced a new Freedom of Religion Bill.

At first glance, the name of this bill suggests an important step forward in human rights for India, but it’s actually the opposite. The bill is a cleverly disguised anti-conversion law, and it’s not the first to be introduced in the country.

Despite the fact that the Indian constitution clearly defines and protects the freedom to practice and propagate religion, radical members of both national parties — Congress and the BJP — have already managed to pass anti-conversion laws in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh.

When the new bill passes in Jharkhand — a draft has already been approved by the Cabinet — anyone found guilty of the vague crime of converting people could be sentenced to a minimum three years in jail.

Barring the general justification that these laws are intended to protect vulnerable people from fraudulent conversion through “allurement” or “coercion,” there’s no doubt the primary suspects and assumed perpetrators are Christians. Implicit in the anti-conversion laws is the assumption that there’s a foreign Christian agenda to convert Indians and that the tribals and Dalits — also known as “untouchables” — are especially susceptible to conversion schemes.

While politicians may pass anti-conversion laws, Indians need to be reminded that Christianity and Hinduism actually agree on this issue. Both support and allow for freedom of conscience and belief. Anyone who argues otherwise does not represent what Hinduism, which has always been a religion of freedom, stands for.

In the end, we all need to be reminded of this: India’s multireligious identity is our great strength, not our weakness.