Survey finds religious freedom did not increase during Arab Spring

Published: Friday, June 21 2013 11:15 p.m. MDT

"In China, for instance, two Tibetan lay people, ages 60 and 65, were beaten and killed by police in April 2011 at the Kirti monastery, where they stood in protest against the harsh treatment of Tibetan monks," Pew reported.

First freedom

The Pew study is the third to come this year documenting and grading religious persecution around the globe. Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual watch list and the State Department issued its International Religious Freedom report for 2012. The Pew report is based on a previous iteration of the State Department report.

The independent USCIRF has criticized the State Department for not listing Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam as "countries of particular concern" in the oppression of religious minorities.

But Farr said the United States needs to go beyond lists and "finger wagging" to give countries like Egypt and Iraq a reason to work toward religious freedom as they attempt to establish new governments.

"We need to consistently make an argument that religious freedom is in their self-interest," he said.

American foreign policy at all levels must make a case for religious freedom through diplomatic, foreign aid and media channels to convince foreign leaders and citizens that religious freedom is necessary to achieve the economic opportunities and security sought by those who instigated the uprisings that ousted political leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and prompted protests in other countries in the region.

But religious freedom must be a priority for the U.S. administration as well, Farr said, noting ratings in government restrictions and social hostilities toward religion in the United States have moved from a low level in 2009 to a moderate level in 2010 and 2011.

The administration "seems to have lost the conviction that religious freedom is the first freedom," he said.

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

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