This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, highlights the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, one of the countries mentioned in a new report from the State Department on religious freedom - the release of that report is this week's #2 story. And, at the top of the list, new regulations involving faith-based organizations who received Federal funds.
3 - Pakistan's blasphemy law yields woman's death sentence
In Pakistan, Christians and others who follow a religion other than Islam can face stiff punishment, including death. These so-called blasphemy laws have received international scrutiny and condemnation, nevertheless the Pakistani government continues to enforce these policies, which has resulted in unprecedented religious persecution in this predominantly Muslim country.
And now, another instance has brought even more international concern, as a woman - a wife and the mother of 3 children - has been found to be guilty of violating the law by merely speaking out against Islam in the face of those who apparently were trying to coerce her to renounce Christianity. Asia Bibi, a Christian, was accused of blaspheming Muhammed and defaming Islam and faces the death sentence. Open Doors USA has posted this story on its website.
Here again, this case is indicative of harsh punishment that awaits Christians in many countries around the world, simply because they stand for Christ in the face of intense pressure. Asia is the first woman to be sentenced to death under these laws in Pakistan. This calls our attention yet again to the plight of Christians in many countries, and can be a catalyst for us to pray and to become more aware of organizations that are intervening on behalf of Christian believers around the world.
2 - State Department releases religious freedom list
The U.S. State Department released a report earlier this week that indicates there are a number of countries in the world that are apparently not committed to ensuring religious freedom. In the International Religious Freedom Report 2010, we see that not only are there countries listed where minority religions suffer persecution while a majority or government-sanctioned religion is given preferential treatment. Plus, we see there are countries where extremist groups and intolerant groups make the practice of some religions difficult. Here is a nice summary from the Religion Clause blog.
There were 8 "Countries of Particular Concern" that were highlighted: Burma (interesting that the report should refer to this country by its more familiar name, rather than the military junta's name, Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. In these countries, citations are made regarding U.S. involvement on religious freedom issues. There were a total of 27 countries that were covered in the report - some have seen improvement, apparently, in the eyes of the State Department, while other governments are continuing to promote or allow an atmosphere of religious intolerance. Also, U.S. opposition to a proposed U.N. resolution, promoted by a number of Muslim countries on "defamation of religions", was revisited in the report. Here is the link to the State Department's Executive Summary.
1 - President's faith-based initiatives under revised rules
When he took office, President Obama continued the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a concept basically begun by his predecessor to recognize and reward the work of faith-based organizations who are doing work deemed to be beneficial to society. While President Bush's purpose seemed to be to reinforce the work that was being done by equipping those organizations with more Federal dollars, the purpose under Obama could be interpreted as to exercise governmental control of faith-based organizations who are doing work consistent with the government's goals.
Another round of regulations of these organizations receiving taxpayer funding was released this week, and while, as some pro-family groups had feared, hiring practices were not addressed, but there were a number of issues that could be perceived as lessening or separating the "faith" out of these organization's work. Here is a report from CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family.
A religious organization receiving Federal funds is expected to keep its "religious" and "secular" purpose separate - and presumably government oversight would be in place to guarantee this is done. The difficulty here is that many organizations do good work, recognizing and depending on the power of Christ...so how do they keep their religion out of it? Certainly, Federal grants can be helpful in carrying out ministry work, but if the government becomes increasingly burdensome, the law of diminishing returns is a factor, and the message of the life-changing power of the gospel could be diluted at the expense of the money. As we have seen in other sectors, where there is government funding, there is greater government control.
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