Nation & World : Wednesday, September 23, 1998
Senate hopes to find way to fight religious persecution
by Norman Kempster
WASHINGTON - Senate leaders are promising action before Congress ends
this fall on long-stalled legislation intended to combat religious
Los Angeles Times
Almost all sides in the emotional debate agree that thousands of
people around the globe face starvation, murder, rape, kidnapping,
imprisonment, forced conversion, slavery and other atrocities because of
their religious beliefs.
However, there is almost no agreement on what Washington can, or
should, do about the problem. Proposals to impose economic sanctions
have generated strong opposition from the business community and have
drawn objections from the administration, which calls such sanctions a
blunt instrument that can interfere with other foreign-policy
objectives. There is little consensus about other steps that could be
used to punish persecutors.
"The freedom to proclaim a religious identity and to practice (it)
is an inalienable right of all people," White House national security
adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger wrote recently. "When denied, it can sow
generations of hatreds - hatreds later harvested in violence, unrest and
However, Berger was arguing against a bill that would impose
economic and political sanctions on nations implicated in religious
persecution, either directly through government action or indirectly by
allowing mobs to get away with atrocities against members of competing
Berger and other Clinton administration officials - backed by much
of the business community and even some church groups - contended that
the measure would actually make matters worse by provoking a backlash
against the religious groups the bill is intended to protect.
The House approved the bill, 375-41, but the legislation has bogged
down in the Senate. The House bill - with its heavy emphasis on economic
sanctions - is thought to have no chance in the Senate, and a substitute
sponsored by Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., is stalled in the Foreign
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., vows that he will not
allow the committee to bury the legislation and says he intends to bring
it up soon by employing a seldom-used procedure allowing the majority
leader to bypass committees.
According to reports compiled by the State Department, religious
groups and some secular human-rights organizations, persecution is a
"Followers of all of the world's major religions - Christians,
Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Bahais and others - are currently
discriminated against, harassed, detained, tortured and killed,"
reported the State Department's Advisory Committee on Religious
Discrimination Abroad earlier this year.
Although martyrs come in all faiths, Christians are the most
frequent victims, according to numerous nongovernmental assessments.
Many Christians live as minorities in Third World countries where
another religion is dominant.
Fundamentalist groups, led by the Christian Coalition, have mounted
a campaign to overcome public apathy and make Americans more sensitive
to the plight of Christians persecuted around the world.
The bill passed by the House closely tracked the coalition's
objectives, focusing on persecution of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and
Bahai. It targeted China, Vietnam, Sudan, Iran, Cuba, Morocco,
Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, North Korea, Indonesia, Egypt and Laos for
immediate attention by a newly created White House office of religious
©Copyright 1998, The Seattle Times Company