U.S. State Department

State Dept. Should Act on Pakistan's Religious Freedom Violations, Watchdog Group Says

U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created in 1998 as an independent, bipartisan body. Public domain image.

An independent religious freedom watchdog panel has welcomed the State Department’s annual religious freedom report and its list of the world’s worst offenders, which had laid dormant for three years.

The list of “countries of particular concern” had remained unchanged since 2006 — and hasn’t been formally issued by the State Department since 2011 — when Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan were cited.

In April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the list be doubled to include Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and Egypt. Turkmenistan was the only new addition to this year’s CPC list, bringing the total to nine countries.

The State Department and the independent USCIRF have often been at odds on who makes the list of worst offenders, and in a statement, USCIRF noted the “disappointing omission” of Pakistan in particular.

“Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as CPCs,” said USCIRF Chair Katrina Lantos Swett.

Suzan Johnson Cook to Resign as Religious Freedom Ambassador

Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson. Photo via RNS

Suzan Johnson Cook, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, will announce this week that she is resigning after 17 months on the job, according to two sources familiar with her office.

President Obama nominated the former Baptist minister to serve as his top adviser on protecting religious freedom around the world. When confirmed by the Senate in April 2011, she became the first woman and the first African-American in the position, which had been held by two people before her.

Obama had been criticized for taking too much time after his own swearing-in to nominate a religious freedom ambassador, a position created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Clifford Sloan Selected As Guantanamo Closure Envoy By President Obama

In an effort to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, President Barack Obama has called to action one of Washington’s most resourceful lawyers, Clifford Sloan. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are confident in their decision to employ Sloan as the State Department's envoy for Guantanamo's closure. The Huffington Post reports:

"It will not be easy, but if anyone can effectively navigate the space between agencies and branches of government, it's Cliff," Kerry said. "He's someone respected by people as ideologically different as Kenneth Starr and Justice Stevens, and that's the kind of bridge-builder we need to finish this job."

Read more here.

Critics: State Department is ‘AWOL’ on Iran’s Religious Freedom

Naghmeh Abedini, wife of imprisoned Iranian-American minister Saeed Abedini. Photo courtesy RNS.

Religious freedom activists scolded the U.S. State Department for not appearing at a hearing Friday on Iran’s treatment of religious minorities, and called for greater government action to secure the release of people imprisoned there for their faith.

“The State Department is AWOL — they are absent without leave,” complained Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative law firm that represents the wife of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American minister in Tehran’s Evin prison. “They act as if they are embarrassed about Mr. Abedini’s faith.”

The Washington Post is Wrong on Keystone XL

Tar sands protesters. Photo courtesy Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

The day after the Washington Post announced it was moving its top environmental reporter off the green beat to cover politics at the White House, this op-ed went up toeing an uncomfortably familiar line: by speaking out against the Keystone XL pipeline, environmentalists are “missing the climate-endangered forest for the trees.”

Leaving aside for a moment the uncomfortable irony of being reprimanded for missing the big fight by an outlet that is reshuffling focus on that very front: the editorial board, respectfully, is wrong. Not that it doesn’t have a point, but that point is concrete and incremental – and misses the entire meaning of the forest of protests over the last 18 months.

U.S. State Dept to American Tourists in Israel: 'Dress Modestly'

Woman walks past graffiti calling for Jewish women to dress modestly in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Photo by Getty Images.

JERUSALEM — The U.S. State Department is advising visitors to Jerusalem to dress modestly when visiting certain neighborhoods, or to avoid the areas entirely, in hopes of not provoking local sensitivities.

The State Department guidance did not specify which neighborhoods are considered problematic, or what, exactly, constitutes "modest" attire.

The Jerusalem advisory, updated on Jan. 10, says travelers "should exercise caution at religious sites on holy days, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays" and "dress appropriately" when visiting ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and the Old City of Jerusalem, where religious Jews, Muslims and Christians live in distinct quarters.

Subscribe