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ACLU: A Look at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

The ACLU goes into even more detail about the problematic history of the USCIRF and the recent appointments of Zuhdi Jasser and Robert George.

A Look at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

In 1998, Congress created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to draw attention to violations of religious freedom in other countries. The commissioners vote annually to list countries that are of particular concern or place others on a watch list of countries that should be monitored closely for religious freedom violations.

But, since its inception, the commission’s been beset by controversy. People who watch the commission closely say it was created to satisfy special interests, which has led to bias in the commission’s work. Past commissioners and staff have reported that the commission is “rife, behind-the-scenes, with ideology and tribalism.” They’ve said that commissioners focus “on pet projects that are often based on their own religious background.” In particular, past commissioners and staff reported “an anti-Muslim bias runs through the Commission’s work.”

The commissioners’ personal biases have led to sharp divides both within the commission and with the State Department, which it is supposed to advise. One expert calls the commission’s relationship with the State Department “adversarial,” and “not conducive to effective dialogue, let alone cooperation.” And the divisiveness within the commission itself is obvious, ranging from how it dealt with when a policy analyst claimed her contract with the commission was cancelled because she was Muslim to its most recent report in which five commissioners voted to include Turkey on the list of countries of particular concern (alongside a few others like China and North Korea) over the strong objections of the four other commissioners.

Given the commission’s history of letting the commissioners’ personal biases drive its agenda, in light of recent appointments, it seems especially relevant to look at what two new commissioners have done.

First, Zuhdi Jasser. He is highlighted in a recent report that describes a network of Islamophobia “misinformation experts,” as someone who “validate[s] and authenticate[s] manufactured myths about Muslims and Islam.” His organizationlauded a statewide ban on Sharia law, which was later overturned by federal courtsbecause it was blatantly discriminatory and singled out one faith for official condemnation. He has tried to justify the so-called “radicalization” theory, which conflates First Amendment-protected practices with involvement in terrorism. He narrated the film shown on a continuous loop at an NYPD training facility that says American Muslim leaders cannot be trusted and “Muslim extremists are attempting to ‘infiltrate and dominate America.'” And when it came to light that the NYPD had conducted constitutionally suspect surveillance of the Muslim community in New York and other states, he commended the department’s actions.

Second, Robert George. George also has ties to the Islamophobia industry. He sits on the board of the Bradley Foundation, which the Center for American Progress reportedprovides funding to organizations that advocate for anti-Islam or anti-Muslim agendas.

But he is better known for his advocacy against the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. He helped author the failed federal marriage amendment that would have amended the U.S. Constitution to enshrine discrimination against gay and lesbian couples by limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. He helped start the National Organization for Marriage, which advocates for discriminatory state constitutional amendments on marriage and keeping the so-called Defense of Marriage Act on the books. Throughout his career, George has written about religious liberty; but when he works to enshrine one religious view of marriage over another while some religious faiths and denominations have decided, based on their own religious teachings, to sanction marriage of same-sex couples, he harms this very principle.

Religious freedom means that people of all faiths are able to live and worship without suspicion that they are being targeted by their government and that the law should not be used to promote one set of religious beliefs over others. We hope the commission will be able to condemn these sorts of actions and not be sidetracked by commissioners’ personal agendas.

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  • Zakariya Ali Sher

    Perhaps a better question might be when the ACLU has EVER curtailed your religious freedoms as a Christian. The fact is that the ACLU has stood up for Christians, as well as Atheists, Muslims, Jews, Pagans, and just about any other religious group, even unpopular ones. I believe the ACLU even represented Fred Phelps or one of those other wacky Christian protest groups, and recently too.

    The fact is that they stand up for FREEDOM of religion; that means ALL religions. Yes, you can’t force creationism into public schools any more than you can force shariah compliant economics nor can teachers make students pray. If you want that, you have PRIVATE schools. Or go to your church for Sunday school. I’m sure they are more than happy to teach that. You certainly can’t impose those things on everyone else’s kids, and that’s really what it boils down to. Public schools still have classes on comparative religion, still read from the Bible (and Quran, Iliad, Odyssey, Bhagavad Gita, etc) as literature, and still allow students to observe holidays.

  • Rocky Lore

    The ACLU lecture on religious freedom? That’s funny because the ACLU constantly threatens Christians with lawsuits.

  • Zakariya Ali Sher

    It’s nothing new. The US government and especially State Department have a long history of bias towards Christianity, specifically Euro-American Protestant/Evangelical flavours. The government has worked hand in hand with missionaries to subvert traditional cultures around the globe in a misguided belief that it is in ‘American interests’ to do so. Indeed, the goal is to make all religions alike in the end. Moreover, the persecution of anyone other than Euro-American Protestants is often overlooked.

    Think about this. The evangelicals have created a system in which they raise billions of dollars to spread their religion. They have seminars with anthropologists, sociologists, historians, linguists, psychologists, political scientists and the like teaching people how to convert others. They have translated their literature into every language imaginable. It is essentially a huge and well organized business venture, and they have friends in high places in the US government and military, which assures their dominance over other countries.

    When was the last time there was a well funded and well organized Muslim effort to spread Islam in the west, or anywhere else for that matter? When was there ever such an attempt on the part of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism or the like? Most other religions lack the missionary streak or power to impose themselves. For that matter, many like Judaism and Wicca are seen as being ‘western enough’ that they aren’t a threat. Even in their homelands, many religions are under siege. People talk about the Taleban desecration of the Buddhas at Bamiyan or the destruction of the Ram Mandir in Uttar Pradesh, yet these same people will intentionally overlook Christian missionaries destroying Buddhas, temples and even harassing monks and shaman…

    Here’s an interesting, if somewhat biased article on the subject:

  • mindy1

    The idea was good, but the people on it should represent those who REALLY believe in religious freedom

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