Religious Freedom Resolution Introduced due to Recent Religious Intolerance Abroad
A recent major setback against the fight for religious freedom occurred on March 2nd when Pakistan Minister of Minority Affairs, Shabaz Bhatti, was assassinated. According to The Christian Post, “He was the only Christian member of the Pakistani President’s Cabinet. Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, courageously spoke out against the misuse of the country’s blasphemy laws by Islamic extremists and spoke up for religious minorities, including Christians.”
Regarded as one of Pakistan’s main proponents for religious freedom, Bhatti became a prime target of the Taliban and frequently received death threats. For his courageous efforts, he was awarded the first religious freedom medallion in September 2009 by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. At the presentation, Bhatti stated, “I personally stand for religious freedom, even if I will pay the price of my life. I live for this principle and I want to die for this principle.”
Bhatti’s main focus was to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy law which provides political Islam with a way to carry out punishment it deems necessary. As explained by Sanjeev Miglani of Reuters, “Under the law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty but activists say the vague terminology has led to its misuse.” Although blasphemy convictions in Pakistan are common, the death sentence has never been utilized. Usually convictions are appealed, however those released are often killed out on the streets by extremists. Another major public figure opposed to the Pakistan blasphemy law was the governor of Punjab named Salman Taseer. In January of 2011, he too was assassinated for his viewpoints.
In light of the recent religious unrest in the Middle East as well as the two assassinations of major advocates of religious freedom in Pakistan, certain members of U.S. Congress felt the time has come for the UN to take a firmer stance on international religious freedom. Similar to the idea expressed in our previous article “President Obama Appoints an Ambassador for Religious Freedom,” U.S. Congressman Franks encouraged the Obama Administration to take an “offensive approach” against religious intolerance around the world. Franks also suggests it is made clear exactly which groups are for, and against, religious freedom.
Per Dan Wooding of Continental News, “House Resolution 141 calls for a Human Rights Council resolution in honor of Taseer and Bhatti’s courage in defense of core principals of Pakistan’s democracy, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” With this statement, it appears the pressure is rising for governments to actively support religious freedom as well as defend those promoting it. To what measures should a government go to in order to punish those practicing religious intolerance in foreign countries? Would sanctions or military action be considered?