state department

Unidentified Syrian refugees on the Turkish - Syrian border. thomas koch / Shutterstock.com

The U.S. State Department warned that religion-based terrorists as well as some governments across the globe are threatening the liberties of religious minorities.

“One of the best ways to deny these murderers their victory is by ensuring that those they have sought to destroy not only survive, but thrive,” said Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, announcing the 2015 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on Aug. 10.

the Web Editors 04-26-2016

U.S. Embassy worker Xulhaz Mannan was murdered April 21 in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, according to the U.S. State Department.

Local reports say Mannan and another man were hacked to death. There is some suspicion this violence was provoked by Mannan's LGBT activism.

A Yazidi volunteer with the Kurdish peshmerga. Image via REUTERS/Azad Lashkari/RNS

The Knights of Columbus has issued a 280-page report declaring that the Islamic State group is committing “genocide” against Christians and other religious groups in the Middle East and urging the U.S. State Department to use that term to describe its actions. Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson said his Catholic fraternal organization, working in partnership with the group In Defense of Christians, does not contend Christians alone are facing genocide from the group known as ISIS but it believes the State Department must include them.

Maria J. Stephan 10-20-2015

Image via  / Shutterstock

Three years ago, I was a U.S. State Department officer deployed to Turkey to work with the Syrian opposition. It was an amazing opportunity to support Syrian activists and civic leaders waging an improbable — yet remarkable — popular struggle, against a criminal regime that responded to peaceful protests with bullets and torture. For [the previous] eight months since the start of the revolution in March 2011, Syrian activists — Sunni, Christian, Kurdish, Druze, and Alawite — had used demonstrations, sit-ins, resistance music, colorful graffiti, online satire, and dozens of other nonviolent tactics to challenge the Assad regime. My task, along with that of my U.S. government and international colleagues, was to aid their efforts.

A year earlier, I co-wrote and published a book with Erica Chenoweth, called Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. In it, we tested the conventional wisdom that only violence works against formidable foes like dictatorships and foreign military occupations. In studying 323 violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900-2006, Erica and I found that nonviolent civil resistance was twice as successful as armed struggle — even against militarily superior opponents willing to use violence. We also found that nonviolent struggle helps consolidate democracy and civil peace.

Oren Dorell 04-29-2015
Photo via U.S. Department of State / Flickr / RNS

Randy Berry delivers remarks at a welcome reception on February 28, 2015. Photo via U.S. Department of State / Flickr / RNS

Randy Berry, 50, is the U.S. special envoy for the human rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people, the first such post ever created by a nation, according to the State Department.

In that trailblazing role, he said, he has an opportunity to help his two children grow up in a world more accepting than the one he was born into.

As someone who has “walked the personal journey of coming out,” Berry said, he knows how crucial positive messages and support are to a U.S. and global LGBT community plagued by young suicides.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, in Washington, D.C. in 2002.

President Obama on Monday said he plans to tap Rabbi David Saperstein as the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job, which was created in 1998.

As ambassador, the man named as the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine in 2009, will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.

“When it comes to the work of protecting religious freedom, it is safe to say that David Saperstein represents the gold standard,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, announcing the nomination at the State Department.

A Reform rabbi and lawyer, Saperstein, 66, has led the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for 40 years, and has spent his career in Washington, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues. He was instrumental in the 1993 passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires the government to show a compelling reason for any action that impinges upon the exercise of religion.

Sophia Har 02-05-2014
Photo by Liz Schmitt / Sojourners

Photo by Liz Schmitt / Sojourners

The U.S. needs to quit its crude oil habit. TransCanada needs to see the individuals whose health is directly threatened by Keystone XL. The president and legislators alike need to act for the welfare of not only this generation but for the generations to come, if we indeed want to see the flourishing of future generations. We need to admit to our addiction to oil and identify its harmful ecological impact for what it is.

As a person of faith, I want to see our landscapes, waters and skies restored to wholeness. I am compelled by the love I’ve received from God and God’s people to work alongside others for the common good of all. Having experienced the crisp June evenings of Minnesota as well as the asthma-inducing smog of Hong Kong, I know both the beauty of fresh air and green spaces and the dullness of pollution and gray skies. The chances of enjoying the former are quickly dwindling at our current rate of oil consumption, but we still have time to prevent further environmental degradation, if not for future generations then at least for those of us who still look forward to the rest of their lives, no matter our age.

Liz Schmitt 01-31-2014
Forward on Climate Rally, Photo by Scot DeGraf

Forward on Climate Rally, Photo by Scot DeGraf

Friday at 3 p.m. ET, the State Department released their long-awaited final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, a proposed project from TransCanada to build a new pipeline for transporting tar sands crude oil from Canada to a refinery in Texas where it will likely be exported internationally.

Environmentalists and concerned citizens on the pipeline’s pathway have been waiting for the State Department to address previously ignored issues like the pipeline’s impact on climate pollution. President Obama said in a climate-focused speech last year that he would only approve Keystone XL if it did not pose a significant risk of climate pollution, so although State Department looked at other environmental risks as well (such as the 1,692 pipeline spills or incidents that occurred from 2002 to 2012 in the United States). This review concludes that the number of U.S. jobs to be created – once estimated in the tens of thousands – will actually be 50 operations jobs, with only 35 permanent. The rest (the touted 42,000 number) are all temporary construction jobs.

Photo courtesy RNS/ Shutterstock.com.

United States passport. Photo courtesy RNS/ Shutterstock.com.

A federal appeals court has ruled unconstitutional a 2002 law that allows Americans born in Jerusalem to designate Israel as their birth country on their passports.

The lawsuit, brought by an American couple whose American son was born in Israel in 2002, challenged the government to uphold the law. Instead the court found it unconstitutional.

The State Department has not permitted Americans born in the city to list “Israel” as their birthplace on their passports, despite the law.

Corrie Mitchell 06-21-2013
Photo courtesy RNS.

The first-ever congressional hearing on the International Religious Freedom Act. Photo courtesy RNS.

Fifteen years after Congress passed a law to better protect global religious freedom, the legislation is failing to fulfill its mission, activists told lawmakers on Thursday.

The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) chartered the bipartisan and independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which is charged with advising the State Department and Capitol Hill on protecting religious freedoms abroad.

It also created the State Department’s position of ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, and requires the State Department to name “countries of particular concern” that most egregiously violate religious liberties.

 Photo courtesy State Department/Public Domain via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/ekTg

John Kerry releases the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report. Photo courtesy State Department/Public Domain via Flickr

The Obama administration isn’t afraid to call out Republicans for playing politics on Capitol Hill, or Wall Street for runaway profits or insurance companies for health care woes.

But why, when it comes to protecting religious freedom abroad, is the State Department so hesitant to name names?

Watchdogs say the State Department missed a key opportunity to put teeth into its annual assessment of global religious freedom, which was released by Secretary of State John Kerry Monday.

Continuing a pattern begun under President George W. Bush, the report does not include a list of “countries of particular concern,” or “CPCs” — the diplomatic term for countries that either actively suppress religious freedom or don’t do enough to protect it.

QR Blog Editor 05-13-2013

Climate defenders should celebrate the news that Obama is continuing to delay signing a permit that would allow foreign-owned mining company TransCanada a permit to build the northern route of the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline across the U.S.

After the State Department once again released a highly flawed assessment in March and the Environmental Protection Agency called it “deeply flawed” (again), we see that grassroots pressure is creating an effective roadblock on this incredibly dangerous path.

From Reuters:

The Obama administration is unlikely to make a decision on the Canada-to-Nebraska Keystone XL pipeline until late this year as it painstakingly weighs the project’s impact on the environment and on energy security, a U.S. official and analysts said on Friday.

The decision may not be made until November, December or even early 2014, said a U.S. official … who did not want to be named given the sensitive nature of the project.

Analysts agreed that a decision would not be made by this summer as the State Department had suggested when it issued an environmental review on the pipeline on March 1.

World religion symbols, nogoudfwete / Shutterstock.com

World religion symbols, nogoudfwete / Shutterstock.com

It can be hard to come up with a list of countries with the most egregious records on religious freedom when some of the world’s worst offenders aren’t even nation states.

For its annual report of violators, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom counts 15 nations where abuse of religious liberty is “systemic, egregious, and ongoing.”

But the commission, which was created by Congress in 1998 as an independent watchdog panel, also wants to highlight the crimes of non-nations, which for the first time this year get their own section in the report. 

Janelle Tupper 04-23-2013
Forward on Climate Rally, Photo by Scot DeGraf

Forward on Climate Rally, Photo by Scot DeGraf

In the midst of our celebration of Earth Day, government agencies continued the debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada’s tar sands across the United States into the gulf coast of Texas to be refined and shipped elsewhere. The State Department, tasked with reviewing the pipeline’s environmental impact, gave it a tentative pass a month and a half ago.

Activists across the country sprang into action to oppose the pipeline, citing its contribution to climate change and risk of oil spills. Supporters of the pipeline shot back, denying the climate impact of the pipeline and claiming that the oil would be produced whether or not the Keystone project moved forward.

The Environmental Protection Agency responded yesterday, calling into question the State Department’s findings and echoing the concerns of environmental activists everywhere: the Keystone Pipeline would be greatly exacerbate climate change

Secretary of State John Kerry, Photo courtesy U.S. State Department.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Photo courtesy U.S. State Department.

Secretary of State John Kerry is calling for the release of an Iranian-American minister from a Tehran prison, a welcome step for advocates who had accused the State Department of being “AWOL” on the case.

“I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” Kerry said in a statement released on March 22.

“I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire.”

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages

Hillary Clinton delivers remarks on the 'State of International Religious Freedom.' PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages

Religious minorities continue to suffer loss of their rights across the globe, the State Department reported on Monday, with a rise in blasphemy laws and restrictions on faith practices.

Almost half of the world's governments "either abuse religious minorities or did not intervene in cases of societal abuse," said Ambassador-at-Large Suzan Johnson Cook at a State Department briefing on the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report.

"It takes all of us — governments, faith communities, civil society working together to ensure that all people have the right to believe or not to believe," she said.

Christians in Egypt, Tibetan Buddhists in China and Baha'is in Iran are among those without religious rights, the report states.

In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, people have been killed, imprisoned or detained because they violated or criticized blasphemy laws. In Indonesia, a Christian was sentenced to prison for five years for distributing books that were considered “offensive to Islam.”

These statutes, the U.S. government says, silence people in countries that claim to be “protecting religion.”

Amy Stetzel 09-26-2011

[caption id="attachment_34028" align="alignleft" width="214" caption="Detail of a sculpture at the site of a former slave market, Christ Church, Zanzibar. By Cathleen Falsani."][/caption]

Cathleen Falsani 09-23-2011

Screen shot 2011-09-23 at 1.52.01 PMThe Slavery Footprint campaign launched Thursday (Sept. 22), which also happened to have been the 149th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, with the goal of personalizing "the issue of modern slavery by providing people with an assessment of just how much their lifestyle depends on forced labor -- and the steps they can immediately take to help end it."

By following this LINK I was able to plug in some basic information about myself and my lifestyle -- where do I live, do I own or rent, how many children do I have, have many diamonds/leather shoes/electronic gizmos do I own, what are my eating habits, what's in my medicine cabinet, etc., -- and in just a few minutes received the upsetting news that, according to the Slavery Footprint campaigns diagnostics, 52 slaves "work for me."

Hannah Lythe 07-21-2011

[Editors' note: As part of Sojourners' campaign to end the war in Afghanistan, we will run a weekly blog about issues in Afghanistan to educate our readers about the latest news and developments related to the war, the U.S. military's strategy, and the people impacted by our decisions. Read more about our campaign at www.sojo.net/afghanistan.]

The United States government has quietly terminated a popular exchange program for high school students from Afghanistan after numerous participants fled to Canada as refugees rather than return home.

The program, the State Department's Youth and Exchange Study (YES), was established in 2002 to provide scholarships to students from countries with significant Muslim populations, and "allows participants to spend up to one academic year in the U.S. while they live with host families, attend high school and learn about American society and values." In 2007, YES Abroad was established to provide a similar experience for U.S students in selected YES countries.

Andrew Wainer 02-17-2011
Even before the 112th Congress convened in January, we knew that advancing progressive immigration policy would be challenging.

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