The Editors: Religious liberty is not just for Christians

Syrian refugees wait outside their shelters in late January at Zaatari camp near Mafraq, Jordan.(CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters) 

In late July, some 350 foreign ministers, religious leaders and activists gathered in Washington, D.C., for what conveners called the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. At a time when many fear the United States is retreating from its global role as a champion of human rights, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who hosted the summit, described religious freedom as an “invaluable part of American diplomacy and the capacity to shape America’s vision in the world.”

The Trump administration has faced criticism for seeming to focus on the plight of Christians overseas while ignoring the persecution of other religious minorities. The three-day summit, however, was notable for its inclusiveness. Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i and Yazidi delegations gathered at the State Department, where survivors of religious persecution described being tortured and arrested and losing family members because of their faith. Sam Brownback, the ambassador at large for religious freedom, noted in his opening remarks: “Religious freedom really, truly is for everyone. It’s a right given by God and it’s a beautiful part of our human dignity.”

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His words echo the declaration of the Second Vatican Council that “religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself” (“Declaration on Religious Freedom,” No. 2). This represented a monumental shift in the understanding of Catholic teaching, and today the church continues to play an active role in the protection not only of Christian minorities in places like the Middle East and China but of persecuted peoples of all faiths.

The Trump administration has faced criticism for seeming to focus on the plight of Christians overseas while ignoring the persecution of other religious minorities.

The United States, which marks the 20th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act this year, has likewise upheld the promotion of this fundamental human right as a pillar of its foreign policy. In practice, however, the cause of religious freedom is routinely compromised by national security or economic concerns in U.S. foreign policy or by partisan calculations at home. Under the Obama administration, Secretary of State John Kerry created the Office of Religion and Global Affairs, which expanded the department’s engagement with religious communities, noting in the pages of America that “we ignore the global impact of religion at our peril.” Domestically, however, the Obama administration’s blunt approach to enforcing policies like the health care mandate of the Affordable Care Act alienated many Catholics and other religious communities.

The track record of the Trump administration has been similarly mixed. The administration’s rollback of the contraceptive mandate provides welcome relief for religious employers, and the recent decision to sanction Turkey, a NATO ally that has detained an American pastor for nearly two years, may well herald an era of more muscular defense of religious freedom abroad.

The church continues to play an active role in the protection not only of Christian minorities in places like the Middle East and China but of persecuted peoples of all faiths.

President Trump, however, has repeatedly and egregiously disparaged Muslims in ways that contradict his own State Department’s purported dedication to neutrality in its promotion of religious protections. Few religious communities are more vulnerable than the Muslims, Christians and Yazidis facing displacement or extermination in Syria, yet just 11 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States in the first quarter of 2018 (compared with 790 in the first three months of 2016). Mr. Trump has capped the number of refugees from all countries at 45,000 for this year—a historic low—and is reported to be considering a limit of 25,000 for next year. According to the Pew Research Center, Muslim refugees have seen the steepest drop in resettlement in the United States in the past year.

The president’s attacks on the press also have implications for religious freedom. A. G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, told the president in a recent meeting that Mr. Trump’s characterization of the media as the enemy of the people “is being used by some regimes to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists.” There is a reason that freedom of religion and freedom of the press are placed together in the First Amendment: Both are protections of conscience, the surest bulwark against oppression and tyranny. Without a robust press to hold governments accountable, the likelihood is that other freedoms, including the freedom to practice one’s faith, will be at risk.

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J Cosgrove
4 months 1 week ago

Not all religions are the same in their tolerance of others. Should that be a factor in deciding who gets admitted?. One can look to the doctrine/beliefs that is part of each religion to get at this tolerance.

Kester Ratcliff
4 months 1 week ago

All the big religious traditional communities are so diverse within themselves that you can't really make sweeping statements like that without it being nonsense. Presumably it was a dig at Muslims, but the vast majority of Muslims are as or more tolerant than most Christians, especially because Islam teaches you cannot be a Muslim without believing in the previous prophets and the message they brought. I've been working with refugees for years and more than half my friends now are Syrian Muslims. They're also often more knowledgeable about Christianity than a lot of the Identitarian 'Christians' who only use it as a flag to beat other people around the head with.

J Cosgrove
4 months ago

It is the articles of faith a Muslim must believe that is the issue. It is religious tolerance not tolerance of individuals. Was the prophet tolerant? Answer is no.

He is the perfect human according to Islam. The term "Sunni" means conduct or behavior and a true Muslim must imitate the Prophet. So a true Muslim cannot be tolerant. They may make good friends but that is not the issue.

Erin B
4 months ago

Christianity certainly has a reputation for being intolerant. That is not a good parameter in my view. This country has Freedom of Religion protected in the First Amendment. We are not the only religion in this country. It is unreasonable to force others to accept Christianity as governing law. Religion needs to stay out of politics. You wouldn't like it if Islam all of a sudden tried to force their laws on others. Why is it okay for Christians to do?

J Cosgrove
4 months ago

You are equating tolerance with intolerance and freedom with oppression. Sounds like 1984. You don’t seem to understand the concept of freedom.

J Cosgrove
4 months 1 week ago

Maybe the press should look inward as the cause of negative attitudes toward themselves. They have been perpetrating the biggest fake news story of all time for nearly two years now and have paralyzed the country. Isn't that an example of hurting the people? Why should they have any respect? Sulzberger is one who has his hands dirty in this. Maybe the editors should be condemning the press and not Trump. It's not all the press but most are guilty of this distortion and may be complicit in and actually suppressing the knowledge of criminal activity.

J Cosgrove
4 months ago

Editors,

How can you defend the press especially The NY Times? It came out today that The NY Times and Washington Post had a copy of the unredacted FISA application for about 16 months and have been printing lies during that time period that they knew were false.

Tim Donovan
4 months 1 week ago

As an imperfect Catholic who lives in a nursing home where some staff are Muslims, I believe that all people of faith must be respected. I also know Orthodox Christians, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Protestants of different denominations (including my sister-in-law and niece who are Presbyterians). When I worked in a group home with disabled men years ago, several of my co-workers were immigrants from Liberia. They had fled from a brutal civil war seeking a better life in our nation. ISIS is an example of a terrorist group that many Muslim scholars believe have seriously distorted the teachings of the Koran. However, I believe that more Muslim refugees should be admitted to our nagion, with vetting that is fair and compassionate. Finally, I hadn't thought of attacks on the press having "implications for religious freedom." But I believe that both by respecting people of different faiths and accessing different media outlets as I do is beneficial to both freedoms.

Kester Ratcliff
4 months 1 week ago

Beware that our sympathy and interest in Christians in the Middle East doesn't get used to manipulate us into supporting the regional tyrants who claim to be for "stability" and "anti-terrorism" while actually depending on continuing terrorism to legitimize themselves.

More Protestants (especially sadly much of the Anglican Church of England) and some Catholics have tragically fallen for the Assad regime's propaganda, starting from manipulating their sympathy for Christians there. Some Catholics have fallen for the regime's propaganda too, especially in France with the Assadist organization SOS Chretien d'Orient.

Assad released the extremist Islamists from prison at the beginning of the uprising, staged "al-Nusra" bombings against Christian neighborhoods and used the official Christian hierarchy, who are basically regime officials, to tell Christians that "it's us or them, side with the regime or the terrorists", and sadly it worked to some extent. Otoh many Syrian Christians have also opposed the regime, or were in the protests before but tried to stay out of the war. Some of the most influential members of the civilian opposition, now in exile, are Christians.

Christians in Syria are not blameless - especially the hierarchs who've lied for the regime and acted as informants deserve hell. Yes civilians with wrong political opinions still deserve protection. But beware of siding with everything they say just out of sympathy, and especially be very cautious of what regime picked official spokespersons for Christians in Syria say.

Andrew Strada
4 months 1 week ago

This is the same A. G. Sulzberger who just hired Sarah Jeong, right? However, since Mr. Sulzberger is a white male, we can safely ignore anything he has to say. At least in the opinion of his newest hire, a direct quote from whose tweets would probably get me banned from this site.

Michael Barberi
4 months ago

I continue to be disappointed with the Editors when they do not sufficiently balance the political discourse. There are many, many examples where the press and media exaggerate, mislead and make false statements in an effort to drive a vicious, negative and over-the-top narrative that Trump is evil, racist, a white supremacist, anti-Muslim, anti-women....you get the picture. Granted, Trump has made some stupid and ignorant statements, that should be condemned. However, when he backtracks and reissues a statement of clarity (often a reversal of what he said), the press and media gives him no credit because it does not fit their narrative. Contrast this with the press and media's treatment of Obama. At best, the Editors should be condemning both the Trump Administration, Democrats, Republicans and the Media and Press for our current state of polarized and vitriolic discourse.

When I read this article I could not understand how the Editors could ignore how the Catholic Church taught as truth for centuries that Freedom of Religion was against the Law of God until Vatican II completely reformed this teaching.

While 'development' of a teaching is necessary and positive, let's face it, the Church has been on the wrong side of many issues such as slavery and usury. It also changed the ends of marriage significantly over the centuries ending in 1968 with the dramatic turn that "every marital act" must be open to procreation and be unitive because it is 'Divine Law'. I think not.

While this article makes some attempt to be balanced, it falls short of its stated objectives..

Dolores Pap
4 months ago

Trump IS evil, racist, a white supremacist, anti-Muslim, anti-women...and, illiberal in every sense of the word..All you need for confirmation is what comes out of his own mouth. As a five decade Republican voter, I can not be accused of being a 'libtard' as I am often called, but you can call me a patriot, because I put the welfare of my country over that of the party. Only a partisan would vote party over country..

J Cosgrove
4 months ago

Probably the most hated president before Trump was Abraham Lincoln.

Michael Barberi
4 months ago

Dolores,

A very nice name but not often heard today. My mother's name was Dolores.

You are entitled to your opinion but not the facts. I think your interpretation of the facts about Trump misses his many reversals. To be clear: I did not vote for Trump or Clinton and it was the first time in 50 years that I never voted for President in a Presidential election. I highly dislike and disagree with Trump's rhetoric. Nevertheless, I believe his rhetoric is more about his initial emotional response to those who attack him with vicious misleading, and in some cases false, statements and accusations. I believe Trump could be more effective in deflecting such hatred by using more diplomacy in his discourse. However, Trump is Trump and I don't attempt to give him a 'pass' on his foolish rhetoric.

Notice that almost everything the Democrats and the Media focus on is not on Trump policies, but on his 'persona'. This does not mean that the Democrats and the Media (among others) agree with all of his policies. However, let's get real here. Those who oppose Trump are using a political strategy that is focused on the denigration of his persona. In other words, they want everyone, in particular the Democratic base, to believe he is the personification of evil. To make my point: if Evangelicals would suddenly started to support all the things the Democrats and the Media were saying about Trump (highly unlikely), Trump would do what Trump always does....he would have some very unkind words for this group (to put it diplomatically).

Make no mistake about what I am saying: I don't like Trump's rhetoric. I think it unnecessarily poisons much of the good his policies are doing. Nevertheless, I am not going to jump to the erroneous and emotional conclusion that he is a racist, a white supremacist, or anti-Muslim by ignoring his many reversals as well as what he truly has said without exaggerating what he said in the most negative manner.

I choose to focus on Trump policies, which to date has been good for the country and its citizens. Time will tell if his policies will continue to benefit the U.S. and all of its peoples. By saying this, I do not mean that all of his policies that became law are the best they could have been. For example, while I agreed with his new tax plan, I would have given more of a tax break for the middle class. However, this is a mild criticism considering the significant and necessary benefits that our country needed in order to grow a stagnate and ho-hum economy, to create more jobs and achieve record-low unemployment for minorities and women while reducing the tax burden for the middle class.

Thanks for your comments.

Anne Chapman
4 months ago

Michael, I am afraid I must disagree with you on Trump's "good" policies. First of all, the "persona" IS harming the country - Trump has created a climate of division that is even worse than I remember it being during the Viet Nam era. I am older than you are and I remember it all too well.

He has encouraged a climate of hatred towards the "other" - against those with brown skin from Latin America and against Muslims. He still refuses to condemn white supremacists and neo-nazis in unequivocal terms. He still plays games with words - on the anniversary of the Charlottesville horror he again gave a vague condemnation of racism of "all kinds." And yet he encourages racism among his followers with his dog-whistles and hate rhetoric. He regularly abuses his office, most recently by stripping Brennan of his security clearance. He was sending a warning to those who might dare to publicly criticize him. He has been waging a war against free speech and a free press since his campaign, and it's getting worse.

He has destroyed any semblance of civil discussion with his non-stop vulgarity, his non-stop insults, and his repeated use of animal terms and implications (the Latinos "infesting" our country is one example, calling his former buddy and aide a "dog" is another) to describe people of color, dehumanizing them. The numbers of lies and misleading partial truths he has told has been documented at more than 4000 - significantly more than any other president in history, even Nixon. He knows his supporters will hang with him no matter how many lies he tells, no matter if they are on audio and video. Blind support. As he himself said, he could stand on 5th Ave and shoot people dead and his "base" would support him.

But, beyond the low we have reached in his "persona" as president, as an economist, I do not see what you see as positive in his policies. The tariff war is already hurting many - and since so many are farmers who support him, the American taxpayers are now being forced to subsidize them because of the damage done to them by the tariff war. The foreign carmakers in South Carolina who have created thousands of jobs there, and at the port of Charleston, are already cutting back expansion plans, and have announced they will have to build new plants overseas to handle the production of their cars built in the US and exported to Asia and other markets. I could go on and on with examples of people who are already being hurt by his tariff war. The tariff war is also already driving up prices, and will continue to do so. Trump likes to flaunt the 4.1% increase in GDP. First, that is not an exceptional performance. It was achieved and surpassed during the Obama years several times, and was surpassed even more often during most of the Clinton years, when GDP growth hit more than 6% in some quarters. The following is from the Forbes website, July 24, 2018.

"In the second quarter of the year-2000 growth peaked at 7.5%, according to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve. At the time that was the fastest growth level since the late 1980s when George H. W. Bush was president. It is also a rate of growth that has never subsequently been topped... It did come close during the George W Bush administration when growth for that business cycle peaked at 7.1% in the second quarter of 2004. Even when adjusted for inflation, which was higher before the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the growth of the Clinton and the Bush eras still stand out as super strong. You can see the data from the St. Louis fed here.

The quarterly results were also pushed up by a short-term dramatic increase in exports - with exports of soybeans especially reaching incredible highs. This was apparently an effort by overseas buyers to beat the tariffs, and the soy will be stockpiled to mitigate against higher prices while these customers look for new sources outside of the US. Obama inherited the worst economy since WWII. I wasn't sure about some of his policies, but I had to admit that his steady slow-but-sure pace saved the economy from slipping into depression and built a sound base for growth that Trump is now claiming is all his own work. I am (was) a lifelong Republican. I voted for the Republican candidate in every election since 1972 until 2016. Trump is not a real "conservative". He is not a "real' Republican. But at this point, it seems the alleged Republican members of Congress aren't "real" conservatives or "real" Republicans either. Maybe Jeff Flake and John McCain and a handful of others, but the rest of them have caved to Trump.

Tax cuts provide fiscal stimulus, usually reserved as a tool to boost an economy that is in or near recession. We were not in recession last December. The cuts, combined with a massive spending bill, have blown the deficit sky high already (another area the Republicans have caved in - the GOP used to be the party of fiscal responsibility) - with the deficit growing much faster during the first half-year after the cut than was predicted. It will only get worse. And, as predicted by many, most of the tax cuts to corporations was used to increase dividends, and to buy back their own stocks. Relatively little has gone to investments to improve productivity, nor into wage increases. Wages have gone up some - 2.7% over last year. But the inflationary pressures have been growing also (due to tax cut stimulus and tariffs), so that the inflation rate was 2.9%. Thus real wages have fallen, not grown. I could go on and on about the folly of many Trump policies, and, frankly, I do not see that his policies have been at all good for our country.

Blowing up our alliances with European countries is also not good for our country or the world. Kowtowing to Putin poses special dangers to peace in Europe. The US is the biggest and most powerful country in the world. Who will take our place to lead the world to safety if a real global crisis occurs? China maybe? I doubt it. But pulling out of the TPP basically has handed the Pacific Rim to China for trade purposes. That will create closer political alliances as well. It is not surprising that South Korea (whom we blindsided) is now trying to curry favor with Kim. A man who gave nothing, but got what he wanted out of the much hyped talks in Singapore. No military exercise with the South Koreans in exchange for the same vague and empty promises he made to Obama and Clinton.

The stock market boost is somewhat real, but it too has stalled. It's been in the same trading range since last April. The reasons for the strong stock market are not all healthy and do not have positive implications for the long run. The boost came about because of the promise of the promise of tax cuts for the rich, and of corporate tax cuts (and, as an economist focused on international for most of my career, I agree that our corporate tax was too high), and the roll-back of regulations. These regulations protect our air and our water and safety, and protect our most vulnerable citizens from fraud in the financial sector. Prune them, don't destroy them. I know you lived in San Diego for years, and not Los Angeles. But I grew up in Los Angeles, and the smog there now, with four times the population and probably eight to ten times the number of cars on the roads, is far less than it was in the 1950s, before regulations started to force companies to reduce emissions. I visit Los Angeles at least two or three times/year and have done so for decades and it is heartbreaking to me to see the rollbacks in regulations that produced this dramatic cleanup of air. When I first moved to Washington DC where I live now there was smog. I haven't seen smog here in many years. When I first moved here the Potomac river was so polluted that not only were people told not to eat any fish they caught in it, they were told to visit a doctor if they fell out of a boat into the water. There are fish in the water now, and if your little Sunfish tips over, you don't have to head to the ER.

These examples are mine, but the positives that have come from reasonable health, pollution and financial regulation can be found all over the country. Hopefully there will not be a return to Love Canal situations, or the poisoning of water of communities in the Mojave Desert (If you never saw Erin Brockovich, I suggest you find it on Netflix or somewhere). Over-regulation can be a problem, but this administration has been basically on a slash-and-burn mission to get rid of ALL regulations that big business doesn't like.

The artificial stimulus of the tax cuts at the absolute wrong point in the business cycle will most likely create a recession down the road (there is always another recession. Even Trump can't repeal the business cycle) that will be worse than we would have had because he will have squandered a powerful anti-recession tool on a short-term bump to the economy.

Turning our back on refugees from the middle east is simply cruel. And unchristian. The border policies were so horrific that it's hard to believe that a country that has always welcomed "The tired and poor, ....the homeless" has adopted policies that are a cruel mockery of American values AND christian values. Policies that are designed to benefit conservative white evangelical christians do not further religious liberty when they are deny the religious liberty of others.

Finally, even if all the economic policies were all good (and they are not), the fundamental problem with supporting Trump for those reasons comes down to making a Faustian bargain. Selling one's soul for a tax cut that will provide a short-term boost only. The real reasons some of us are #NeverTrump are explained in a letter published in the Florida Sun Sentinel after the election, describing the correspondance of a man to some (once upon a time) friends.

Those of us who have voted in numerous presidential elections surely have had wins and losses. After each of those losses, I suspect that you, like I, were able to accept the results and move forward. But I am having serious problems "getting over" this one.

Recently I came to the realization that the problem goes much deeper than just coming to grips with who won. .... The other day I sent the following email to two friends ...

"Please understand that I am not mad at you because Clinton lost. I am totally unconcerned that you and I have different 'politics.' And I don't think less of you because you voted one way and I another.

"No, I think less of you because you watched an adult mock a disabled person while addressing a crowd and still supported him. ...you saw a candidate spout clear racism day after day and still backed him. ....you heard him advocate for war crimes and still thought he should be given the reins of government. .y.u watched him equate a woman's worth to where she landed on a scale of 1 to 10 and still got on board. ... you stood by silently while he labeled Mexicans as criminals and Muslims as terrorists.

"It wasn't your politics I found repulsive. No, it was your willingness to support someone who spouts racism, sexism, and cruelty almost every time he opens his mouth. You sided with a bully when it should have mattered most..

"So in response to your post-election expression of hope, no, you and I won't be 'coming together to move forward.' Obviously, the president-elect disgusts me; but it is the fact that he doesn't disgust you that will stick with me long after the election."

Phil Shailer, Hollywood

And that is why I agree with Dolores.

Thanks for hearing me out, Michael.

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