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State Department releases 2015 report on international religious freedom

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The State Department recently released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. A wide range of U.S. government agencies and offices use the reports for such efforts as shaping policy and conducting diplomacy. The Secretary of State also uses the reports to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom in order to designate “countries of particular concern.”

A major concern addressed in this year’s report is the threat to religious freedom posed by blasphemy laws:

In many other Islamic societies, societal passions associated with blasphemy – deadly enough in and of themselves – are abetted by a legal code that harshly penalizes blasphemy and apostasy. Such laws conflict with and undermine universally recognized human rights. All residents of countries where laws or social norms encourage the death penalty for blasphemy are vulnerable to attacks such as the one on Farkhunda. This is particularly true for those who have less power and are more vulnerable in those societies, like women, religious minorities, and the poor. False accusations, often lodged in pursuit of personal vendettas or for the personal gain of the accuser, are not uncommon. Mob violence as a result of such accusations is disturbingly common. In addition to the danger of mob violence engendered by blasphemy accusations, courts in many countries continued to hand down harsh sentences for blasphemy and apostasy, which were used to severely curtail the religious freedom of their residents.

The report highlights several examples of state-sponsored persecution because of these laws:

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which prescribe harsh punishments for crimes such as the desecration of the Quran or insulting the Prophet Mohammad, have often been used as justification for mob justice. Since 1990, more than 62 people have been killed by mob violence (according to Centre for Research and Security Studies in Pakistan). In 2013, there were 39 registered cases of blasphemy against a total of 359 people, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), more than 40 people remain on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, many of whom are members of religious minorities. Numerous individuals involved in well-publicized blasphemy cases from previous years — including Sawan Masih, Shafqat Emmanuel, Shagufta Kausar, and Liaquat Ali — remained in jail awaiting appeal.

Reports on each of the countries can be found here.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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