India’s religious liberty violations

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 5th of May, 2020. 

We’re glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: international persecution.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent and bipartisan government advisory group that tracks persecution of all faiths around the world. Public officials rely on the commission’s recommendations to help set U.S. foreign policy.

REICHARD: Every year USCIRF, as the commission’s known, issues a public report of its findings. This year’s report came out last week. Joining us now to talk about it is commission chairman Tony Perkins. He is also president of the Family Research Council.

REICHARD: I’d like to start with India. The USCIRF report highlights India for a sharp deterioration in religious freedom due to a new law that gave citizenship to persecuted minority groups from neighboring countries but specifically excluded Muslims. That sparked some anti-government protests, but your report also notes that the law prompted harassment and violence against minority groups that went largely unchecked. Tell us a bit more about what you learned about the challenges minority groups face in India.

PERKINS: Sure. This is not new in terms of problems in India. Now, in this particular case in India in December of this past year, they passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which you made reference to. And they approved the National Population Register. Now, … we have national leaders there saying that they want to do this throughout the entire country, which could ultimately leave millions of people, predominantly Muslim, stateless.

REICHARD: The report noted two bright spots based on your research this past year: Sudan and Uzbekistan. Can you talk briefly about the situation in each of these countries?

PERKINS: I can. Sudan in particular because I traveled to Sudan just a couple of months ago, met with the new prime minister Abdala Hamdock and very encouraged after three decades of an Islamist government there under Omar al Bashir, we have a transitional government in place that is actually working very aggressively to embrace religious freedom. Even though still an Islamic country, but wanting to embrace religious freedom. They’ve removed these public order laws which were used to suppress people by imposing a severe form of Sharia law. They’re now working on repealing apostasy and blasphemy laws, which would be quite significant if that’s accomplished and the prime minister said that’s their intent. So, very good news in Sudan. Uzbekistan, very similar in that they are moving to be more receptive to religious freedom for their entire population and this is being driven by an administration here in the United States that has put a high priority on religious freedom. In fact, not only has the president said this, but the secretary of state has said that their number one foreign policy objective is religious freedom. And so world leaders are taking note of that and responding accordingly. And it’s quite encouraging. Doesn’t mean we don’t have problems. We’ve got some significant problems around the world, but we do see some bright spots as a result of the leadership of this country.

REICHARD: Your report also highlighted growing anti-Semitism, especially in Europe. Tell us a little bit about that and what you’d like to see the administration do to help address that problem.

PERKINS: Well, the reason—I mean, there’s two reasons everyone should be concerned by this. We don’t want to see history repeat itself in what what we saw in the 1930s and 40s in Germany. But it’s an early indicator of threat toward all religious freedom and religious expression. And so, really, the consensus, the takeaway from our hearing on Capitol Hill was that this rise of anti-semitism is the canary in the coal mine. It is a warning sign that there is growing hostility toward religious expression, religious engagement, and it’s being targeted in some places toward Jewish people. The Holocaust was real. It claimed millions of lives and it’s something we cannot allow to be repeated and so when we say “Never again,” we have to mean that with solid action steps.

REICHARD: One of your recommendations for the Trump administration is to return the annual cap for refugee resettlement to 95,000. Have you gotten any feedback from the administration on that? And how likely is the president to take that recommendation?

PERKINS: Well, that’s been an ongoing discussion that we’ve had with the administration and that’s one of those areas where we have a disagreement with the administration on this. The president, keeping to his commitments to limiting immigration. We’ve been making the point that there is a proper place for those that have no other place to go to come here as refugees and resettle. And, in fact, it’s incumbent upon us if we want to challenge other countries to defend religious freedom, that we have to take tangible steps as well and this is a part of that by allowing those refugees who have no other place to go, because of the persecution surrounding their faith, that they be allowed to come to the United States.

REICHARD: Is there anything else about this year’s report that we haven’t covered that you’d like to mention?

PERKINS: Again, when you look at the landscape around the globe, there is a growing awareness of this threat to religious freedom. This is recognized as a fundamental human right. Not just an American right, but a fundamental human right. This is a significant time and this is something that all of us can be involved in. Churches should adopt prisoners of conscience, those that are being persecuted for their faith. We need to pray for people who are being persecuted for their faith. We all have a part to play in upholding this fundamental human right of religious freedom.

REICHARD: Tony Perkins is chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He’s also president of the Family Research Council.

(Associated Press/Photo by Bikas Das) A Muslim man protests India’s citizenship law in in Kolkata, India, last month.

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