The State Department's annual report on religious freedom throughout the world is out. As it has since 2001, the State Department lists Saudi Arabia as a significant violator of international religious freedom. Since 2005, the State Department has identified Saudi Arabia as a "Country of Particular Concern" for engaging in violations of religious freedoms.
Despite this, the State Department again has invoked a waiver of potential sanctions reserved for severe violators of religious freedom. Those sanctions can include denial of visas and entry into the United States or deportation of such foreign officials if already here.
The report is required each year under provisions in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). So is the waiver, which is supposed to apply in cases of "important national interest of the United States" or to "further the purposes of the Act." Seemingly, that "further the purposes of the Act" waiver would apply primarily in cases in which our government was convinced the offending foreign country was making genuine progress in no longer violating international religious freedom standards.
Saudi Arabia is a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim state. Its government adheres to an austere form of Islam. The public practice of other religion is prohibited. Even the private practice of other faiths, or of Shia or more moderate versions of Sunni Islam, can result in persecution. Draconian legal sanctions based on archaic Islamic religious precepts are frequently practiced. These include cases of women who are rape victims being convicted for consorting with unrelated males and sentenced to whipping. The primary basis for Saudi religious freedom violations stems from the country's strict and official adherence to radical Islam.
The 2009 report on Saudi Arabia notes "incremental improvements" in some areas, "including selective measures to combat extremist ideology," but still found cases in which the death penalty was administered for alleged witchcraft, non-Muslims were jailed for private worship and vice patrols continue harrassing women for being with a man or being clothed with insufficient modesty.
For a decade, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the State Department has rightfully branded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a notable violator of international religious freedom. State Department reports fully identify the Kingdom's practice of and adherence to radical Islam, and the pervasive legal and cultural persecution that emanate from there, as the primary causes of those violations. Yet, for that decade, our State Department has given the Saudis a "buy" on this critically important human rights issue by repeatedly invoking the waiver of sanctions under the law, ostensibly to "further the purposes of the Act" as if to suggest that further diplomatic consultation will somehow soften the Islamic radicalism entrenched in the mindset of the Kingdom's rulers and clerics.
For a decade, the carrot has not worked. Stick time?