Sections covering religious freedom have been purged from the State Department's latest Country Reports on Human Rights released May 24, CNS News reports. The redactions are noteworthy since the 2011 report covers the Arab Spring which swept through parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Repression of minority rights and strengthening of Islamist forces in the region were among the outcomes from the revolutionary upheaval.
This is the first time the State Department has chosen to delete the section on religious freedom from human rights reports posted on its website. Instead, readers are directed to the 2010 International Religious Freedom Report or the annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that was released in September and covers events from 2010.
Former USCIRF Chairman Leonardo Leo criticized the omission.
"The commission that I served on has some real concerns about that bifurcation, because the human rights reports receive a lot of attention, and to have pulled religious freedom out of it means that fewer people will obtain information about what's going on with that particular freedom or right. So you don't have the whole picture because they split it up right now," Leo told CNS News.
Separating religious freedom from the human rights report might be a bureaucratic exercise, said Thomas Farr, who served in the State Department under both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. But he did not discount the possibility that "the Obama administration was downplaying international religious freedom."
Farr, who now directs the program on Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy and the Project on Religious Freedom at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown, said the Obama administration has devoted far more resources to human rights issues than to religious freedom.
"(T)he ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, for example, who is the official charged by the law to lead U.S. religious freedom policy, did not even step foot into her office until two-and-a-half years were gone of a four-year administration," he said.
"Whereas other human rights priorities of the administration, such as the ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, were in place within months. So that tells you something."