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RFREEDOM-FARR Sep-13-2012 (890 words) With photos. xxxn
Former diplomat prods US to widen worldwide religious freedom efforts
By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Former State Department diplomat Thomas F. Farr prodded U.S. officials to do more to promote religious freedom around the globe in order to boost security and stability in the world's trouble spots during a forum at The Catholic University of America.
Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion Peace and World Affairs, said U.S. efforts in support of religious freedom have been too limited in scope and must embrace not just the freedom to worship, but all aspects of faith practice and following individual conscience.
His comments came during a panel discussion on U.S. policy and international religious freedom during a daylong forum co-sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, the university and the university's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.
Pointing to rapidly eroding religious freedom in some countries and what he termed "rising hostility" to religion in others, particularly Western Europe, Farr said people of faith are facing a "deepening crisis" whereby religious practice is becoming marginalized.
He focused much of his discussion on the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries and called upon the Obama administration to expand efforts to raise the profile of religious rights in the pursuit of foreign policy objectives.
"It's in the vital interest of the United States that countries like Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt succeed in their quest for democracy, that they overcome violent religious extremism and achieve stable democracy, economic development, women's rights, all the things that they aspire to," said Farr, who worked as a diplomat in the State Department for 21 years.
"In short, the United States must become more effective in finding and supporting those Muslims who know that Islam can be defended without violence and that embracing religious freedom is in their vital interest," he said.
In contrast, Farr said, hostility toward religion in Western Europe does not lead to violence, but instead stems from the view that "religious freedom is dangerous."
"People have lost the idea that religious freedom is important," he said, "... not only that it's not intrinsic to human dignity and necessary for human social flourishing, but that it's dangerous to human beings, dangerous to society."
Panelist Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser, arrived to give his presentation after Farr fielded questions from the audience. He explained that the White House staff had been working for more than 24 hours on the violence at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, and several Libyan soldiers.
McDonough, a graduate of St. John's University in Minnesota and Georgetown University, outlined a series of actions worldwide that the administration of President Barack Obama has taken to support religious freedom, but did not address Farr's concerns.
In particular, McDonough cited administration efforts to persuade Chinese officials to ease threats against Tibetans, explain to Pakistani leaders the danger blasphemy laws post to Christians, and stress to Burmese officials that the prejudice against non-Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims must end.
"Freedom of religion is central to the freedom and dignity of human beings, our transcendental dignity," McDonough said. "At the same time, freedom of religion is not only an end in itself, it is a key ingredient for stable, successful societies and a just world.
"We know that countries that truly protect religious freedom are more likely to develop and prosper. They're more likely to have stable democracies. They're more likely to protect the rights of women and girls. This shouldn't surprise us. After all, when citizens can practice their faith freely, when they can find dignity and fulfillment in worshiping at the choose, it's easier for neighbors and communities to come together to achieve progress together."
Afterward, McDonough told Catholic News Service that he agreed with Farr that the U.S. could do more to protect religious freedom around the world.
"He's right," McDonough said. "The American people are right to always demand more of what we're doing irrespective of what the topic is. I don't begrudge Tom that one bit.
"Until freedom of religion is universally practiced or universally welcomed, then I think all of us are going to have to keep pushing harder and harder," he added. "I think it would be a mistake to let your guard down, to think that you shouldn't keep pushing."
Speaker Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations in Geneva, told CNS prior to his closing presentation that religious freedom has received greater attention from the U.N. and other world bodies addressing human rights.
The Human Rights Council, a U.N. organization, addresses religious freedom concerns regularly, he said, to espouse that the rights of all people are protected.
"There has been an interesting evolution in the council. We have moved from a kind of negative approach, defense of religion, resolutions on defamation of religion, and slowly that concept has evolved into a more direct approach to religious freedom," he said.
During his talk, Archbishop Tomasi said despite the U.N.'s efforts, that religious practice is hindered in most countries and that 80 percent of the violations of religious rights worldwide are carried out against Christians. He called religious freedom a fundamental right and said that the Vatican would continue to base its support of religious rights on the social doctrine of the church.
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