Posted on 12/14/2018 01:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
San Diego, Calif., Dec 13, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A trial began Tuesday for the San Diego priest accused of sexually assaulting a seminarian in February. The alleged victim testified Wednesday that the priest groped him in a restaurant bathroom.
The seminarian told the court that he and another seminarian had drinks with Fr. Juan Garcia Castillo at a bar and restaurant on Feb. 3, after an event at St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, where Castillo served as parochial vicar. He said they had several drinks, and that the priest encouraged him to drink to excess.
The seminarian testified that he went to the bathroom sick after midnight. While he was in the restroom, Castillo allegedly approached him from behind and groped his genitals, twice.
The seminarian said he told the priest to “get away.”
“I walked out of the stall, and I look at myself in the mirror and I said, ‘Oh my God, what has happened to me?’” the seminarian said, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
The alleged assault was reported to police and diocesan authorities almost immediately, sources say.
During his opening statement Dec. 12, Castillo’s attorney told a jury that there is no evidence for the seminarian’s claim.
"This is the uncorroborated word of a person who was throwing-up drunk."
"This is a 'he said/he said' where both he’s are drunk and there is no corroborating evidence," the attorney said.
Castillo, 35, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. He was charged in May with one count of misdemeanor sexual battery.
The seminarian told the court that he is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, an attorney and former Judge Advocate General. He entered the seminary after retiring from the Navy.
Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego, told CNA in September that Castillo no longer has priestly faculties in the diocese.
Castillo was listed as a parish priest in the St. Patrick’s bulletin until late March, six weeks after the alleged assault, although Eckery told the San Diego Union Tribune that the priest was removed from his assignment on Feb. 4, the same day the diocese was made aware of the allegation.
Although Castillo was the subject of a criminal investigation at the time he was removed from the parish, the diocese did not disclose the circumstances of his departure to parishioners, or make any statement at the time Castillo was charged with sexual battery.
Eckery told CNA in September that the diocese did not disclose to Castillo’s parish the allegation of sexual assault because “it would be wrong for us to influence the case.”
“We need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear,” he added.
The diocese would not explain the priest’s removal from ministry to the parish where he served, Eckery told CNA, without trying first to determine if an act of sexual misconduct took place, and whether any sexual act was “non-consensual.”
Castillo was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.
A spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office told CNA in September that if he is convicted, Castillo could face up to six months of incarceration, and be listed on California’s sex offender registry.
Posted on 12/14/2018 00:40 AM (CNA Daily News)
Columbus, Ohio, Dec 13, 2018 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Ohio Senate has passed a modified bill to ban abortions when the unborn child has a detectable heartbeat, and backers could have enough votes to override a promised veto from Gov. John Kasich.
The 18-13 vote on House Bill 258 came Oct. 12, with four Republicans voting against the bill. Though 20 votes are required to override a veto, two absent Republicans’ votes could still help the bill become law.
An override vote would have to take place during the week of Christmas before the official end of the legislative session Dec. 31. Senate president Larry Obhof did not seem enthusiastic about the possibility of a Christmas week vote, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Kasich, a Republican, has a strong pro-life record, signing into law at least 18 abortion regulations or restrictions, including a 20-week abortion ban. The heartbeat bill is the only one he has vetoed, doing so in 2016, when legislators did not have the votes to override him.
Kasich is about to leave office in January for Governor-elect Mark DeWine, a Republican who supports the legislation.
The Ohio Senate passed an amendment clarifying that the bill would not require the use of a transvaginal ultrasound to detect a heartbeat, which would extend the period of pregnancy before a heartbeat can be detected. It removed language that would have allowed the state to suspend a doctor’s medical license before a crime related to abortion is proved in court.
The law allows exceptions to prevent a woman’s death or bodily impairment, or in cases of medical emergency.
Republican votes in committee and on the Senate floor rejected several Democratic amendments, including one that would have added exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
The House of Representatives passed the bill last month by a vote of 60-38, exactly the number of votes needed to override. Once the House agrees to the Senate’s changes to the bill, the governor would have ten days from a bill’s passage to veto it, excluding Sundays.
During 2016 debates over the bill, some pro-life critics voiced concern it could result in a counterproductive Supreme Court decision that would strengthen legal abortion in the U.S. It is unclear how the Supreme Court will rule with Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh replacing Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, even if a legal challenge is made and progresses to the high court.
While groups like Ohio Right to Life have remained neutral on the bill due to constitutional concerns, backers of the legislation have said it is specially designed to pass Supreme Court scrutiny.
The Ohio Catholic Conference on Nov. 15 said it supports “the life-affirming intent of this legislation,” but stopped short of endorsement. The conference said it will continue to assist efforts to resolve “differences related to specific language and strategies.”
“In the end, the Catholic Conference of Ohio desires passage of legislation that can withstand constitutional challenge and be implemented in order to save lives,” the Catholic conference said.
Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, who is a past leader of Ohio Right to Life, said Dec. 12 that women who had testified against the bill spoke about their abortions with “tears in their eyes, pain in their heart,” the Columbus Dispatch reports.
“I have never had a woman cry when she said she chose life. Not once. Not a single time,” she said. “Because in our hearts we know this is a human life.”
Bill opponents like Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, charged that the bill sends the message that women “don’t have the capacity to make decisions themselves.” Women would still have abortions, in “a cruel and very dangerous way,” she said.
The bill’s text makes clear that a pregnant woman who undergoes an abortion is not considered in violation of the law. Rather, it allows her to take civil action against the abortion doctor involved if it is proven he or she broke the law, on grounds related to the “wrongful death of the unborn child.”
A doctor who performs an abortion in violation of the law would commit a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine, the New York Times reports. The bill requires state inspections of abortion facilities to ensure their compliance with reporting requirements. It also establishes more ways to promote adoption.
The legislature is expected to pass a bill to ban the dilation and extraction abortion procedure, typically used between 13 and 24 weeks into pregnancy.
Ohio law currently bars abortion 20 weeks or more after conception, based on when an unborn child can feel pain. Pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is considering a legal challenge to that law.
Posted on 12/13/2018 23:51 PM (CNA Daily News)
Canberra, Australia, Dec 13, 2018 / 03:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid competing claims of religious freedom rights and LBGT rights, the Australian prime minister said Thursday the government will next year introduce a bill to protect against discrimination based on religious belief or activity.
“Australia is a place where discrimination on the basis of a person’s identity – including their religious identity – is unacceptable,” the office of Scott Morrison said Dec. 13.
“It is also a place where we respect the right of religious institutions to maintain their distinctive religious ethos. Our laws should reflect these values.”
Morrison also plans to appoint a freedom of religion commissioner at the Australin Human Rights Commission.
The government wants to make religious belief and activity a protected class, like race or sex. It also hopes to ensure that groups rejecting same-sex marriage are not stripped of their charitable status.
The proposals are among the government's response to a review on religious freedom in Australia, which was finished in May.
Australia has seen debate over religious freedom in recent years with respect to the seal of the confessional, hiring decisions, and same-sex marriage.
The religious freedom review made 20 recommendations, of which the government will implement 14 as soon as practicable.
One recommendation, a Religious Discrimination Bill, will be “implemented following consultation to seek bipartisan support.”
Five more recommendations “require further consideration,” the government said. These include provisions relating to employment and enrolment in religious schools.
The head of the religious freedom review panel, Phillip Ruddock, told the Guardian Australia that it had “looked for examples of questionable conduct” against LGBT employees and students, but such examples were “few and far apart and ill-defined”.
Morrison's governing Coalition alliance has been at odds with the opposition Australian Labor Party over efforts to legislate regarding religious schools' ability to discriminate against LGBT students and staff.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney noted earlier this year that “we cannot take the freedom to hold and practice our beliefs for granted, even here in Australia,” and that “powerful interests now seek to marginalize religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life. They would end funding to faith-based schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, strip us of charitable status and protections.”
For example, in July, a group of trade unions in the country passed a motion saying that they will lobby to restrict the right of religious organizations to make hiring decisions based on adherence to Church teaching on sexuality.
And when same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia in 2017, efforts to include amendments that would protect religious freedom failed during parliamentary debate.
Posted on 12/13/2018 22:21 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 02:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bill was introduced Monday in the US House of Representatives to require that the State Department include “reproductive rights” in its annual human rights report.
The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act of 2018 was introduced Dec. 10 by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), and was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The Trump administration's State Department included statistics on “coercion in population control” rather than “reproductive rights” in its 2017 annual human rights report.
The State Department's decision was applauded by pro-life leaders.
“‘Reproductive rights’ has long been a euphemism for destroying human life in the womb,” said Lila Rose, founder and president of the pro-life group Live Action, said when the report was released in April.
“A phrase that sounds like empowerment is a really only code for the subjugation of preborn children,” Rose added.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told CNA at the time that abortion is an “inappropriate indicator of human rights.”
The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act is a direct response to the State Department's decision.
A statement from Clark's office said that “removing women’s right from the annual report in 2017 was a dramatic and dangerous shift in U.S. efforts to protect the international rights of women.”
The State Department began including “reproductive rights” in its human rights report in 2011.
Clark commented that “documenting and reporting human rights violations is a major part of eradicating their existence. This bill would ensure that our State Department maintains its vital role as an international watchdog and protector of women’s rights no matter the ideology of our White House.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, a co-sponsor of the bill, characterized the State Department's decision as the US “turn[ing] its back on the countless women around the world who are deprived of basic reproductive rights.”
Another cosponsor, Rep. Lois Frankel, asserted: “Women’s rights are human rights. There is no greater right for women than to be in charge of their own bodies.”
Among the 45 organizations which have endorsed the bill are the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the American Psychological Association, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated that “when women’s rights are limited and they are unable to access basic health care like contraception, safe abortion, and maternal health care, their ability to achieve economic, social, and political empowerment is fundamentally hindered.”
The State Department's report currently includes a section on “Coercion in Population Control”, under a larger section titled “Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons”. The new section appears under the subsection for “women” and features reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization procedures, and “other coercive population control methods.” There are also links to maternal mortality figures as well as the prevalence of contraceptives in a country.
Posted on 12/13/2018 19:14 PM (CNA Daily News)
Detroit, Mich., Dec 13, 2018 / 11:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Michigan has passed a bill that would continue to prohibit doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs through a teleconference call, permanently extending a ban that first took effect in 2012.
The Detroit Free Press reports that the bill passed the legislature in the early hours of the morning Dec. 13 by a vote of 62-47, with one Republican joining all the Democrats in voting against.
The pro-life group Right to Life Michigan praised the decision to continue to disallow so-called “webcam abortions,” which they say the abortion industry uses as a cost-saving measure despite at least 22 women having died from the use of abortion-inducing drugs.
“The law poses a burden on the abortion industry, particularly Planned Parenthood,” the group wrote in a Dec. 13 blog post.
“They already utilize the abortion pill as a cost-saving measure over a surgical abortion. There are not many abortionists, due to the unattractive nature of the profession's involvement in taking human life...How much more money could the abortion industry save if the abortionist can be 500 miles away, dispensing abortion pills with the push of a button after a quick video conference?”
Michigan lawmakers had passed legislation in 2012 that allowed doctors to teleconference with patients on a wide variety of medical issues— a service particularly useful for rural patients who have limited access to hospitals and specialized doctors.
At the time, lawmakers banned the prescription of the abortion inducing drugs mifepristone and misoprostol via teleconference, in accordance with guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration.
Michigan’s ban would have expired Dec. 31, but the new bill, if it becomes law, will make the ban permanent.
The FDA’s guidelines regarding mifepristone, which was first approved for use in 2000, state that the abortion drug “may only be dispensed in clinics, medical offices, and hospitals by or under the supervision of a certified healthcare provider.” The FDA warns consumers not to buy mifepristone over the internet due to safety concerns.
The action to permanently extend the ban is one of many “lame duck” actions that the outgoing Republican-controlled legislature is undertaking in Michigan before a new group of lawmakers begin their terms on Jan. 1.
The bill now awaits a signature from outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder.
Posted on 12/13/2018 18:40 PM (CNA Daily News)
Lahore, Pakistan, Dec 13, 2018 / 10:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Pakistani official announced this week a new “Minorities Empowerment Package” and the creation of a task force to ensure the rights of religious minorities in the province of Punjab.
According to Dawn, Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs Ijaz Augustine said the package will include new legislation and implement existing laws to assist religious minority communities.
A newly formed task force will be composed of professionals in human rights, law, and academics from a variety of religious communities, with the purpose of monitoring the implementation of human rights policies.
Augustine made the announcement at the Alhamra Arts Council with the Christian Care Foundation, coinciding with Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. The ceremony included the distribution of certificates for activists and employees of the human rights department.
The empowerment package will implement religious minority quotas in jobs, education, and housing. It also looks to establish a sentence remission system and skill development trainings. The money will be taken from a Minority Development Fund worth more than $3 million.
“We are also focusing on skills development and have kept aside Rs25 million (nearly $180,000) for scholarships. We are also working on development and housing schemes specifically for the minority community,” said Augustine, according to Dawn.
The minister said an action plan, drafted by the provincial Task Force on Human Rights, will aim to carry out the goals of the Punjab Human Rights Policy 2018.
“We have also established a web-based Complaint Management System designed by the Punjab Information Technology Board for effective communication and resolution of human rights issues,” he said.
A commission to oversee equality of religious freedom has been called for in the past. The Pakistani Supreme Court ordered the creation of a National Council for Minorities in 2014, but it was subsequently ignored by past governments.
The Pakistani constitution affirms Islam as the state religion, but articles in the document prohibit discrimination and aim to protect religious freedom of minorities.
In practice, however, “the government of Pakistan has not addressed the spread of sectarian or religiously motivated intolerant speech and has not prosecuted perpetrators of violent crimes against religious minorities,” according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The U.S. State Department this week declared Pakistan as one of 10 “countries of particular concern” when it comes to religious freedom. The designation allows for further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.
In July during his presidential campaign, the Pakistani President Imran Kahn said he supported laws imposing strict penalties for blasphemy – including desecration of the Quran or insulting Muhammad.
While no one has been formally executed for the crime of blasphemy in Pakistan, mob killings have followed public accusations of blasphemy.
Servant of God Shahbaz Bhatti was Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs and the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet. He was killed by the Taliban in 2011 after showing support for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who in 2010 was sentenced to death for blasphemy. She was acquitted in October 2018, but her life is still in danger, as the ruling is under government review as part of a deal to appease groups that were leading riots in the streets.
Posted on 12/13/2018 17:55 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, Dec 13, 2018 / 09:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told a Catholic media group Thursday to be avenues of God’s peace, sharing the stories of the poor, the least, and the voiceless.
“In your profession you can be ‘living channels’ of spirituality before God and before all your listeners and viewers,” the pope told collaborators of the Italy-based Catholic broadcasting network Telepace.
“I renew, then, the invitation to ‘promote a journalism of peace,”” he said, quoting his 2018 message for World Communications Day. “A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they the majority in our world – who have no voice.”
Francis addressed the group Dec. 13, for their 40th anniversary, in the Vatican's Clementine Hall. Since 1990, at the request of St. John Paul II, the network has broadcast Vatican events such as the general audience, the Angelus, and papal Masses.
Praising the network, the pope said he wanted to urge three commitments in journalism – the first, to be “antennas of spirituality.” The TV antenna has a beautiful symbolism, he said, because of its “dual function of emitting and receiving a signal.”
Broadcast journalism should be a voice for the voiceless, he stressed; above all for the poor, the least, and the excluded. “Never forget them, the poor next door!” he said, praising the network’s program about inmates on death row in Texas. This “is the spirituality of charity!” he said.
Urging journalists to consider how they can teach the Gospel to the young, he stated that he would like the media to “pay more attention to young people, not only by telling their failures but also their dreams and their hopes!”
Doing this, he said, is a matter of being witnesses of God’s Word.
He also warned the media against letting their storytelling ever devolve into gossip, which undermines human community and sows “envy, jealousy, and lust for power.”
“It is important, therefore, to communicate responsibly, also thinking about how much bad you can do with language, with chatter, with rumors,” he said.
Posted on 12/13/2018 13:39 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, Dec 13, 2018 / 05:39 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced Thursday that Pope Francis will travel to Bulgaria and Macedonia May 5-7, 2019, with a stop in Mother Teresa’s hometown of Skopje.
The pope will spend the bulk of the trip in the Bulgarian cities of Sofia and Rakovski before visiting Skopje, Macedonia, the birthplace of Mother Teresa, on May 7.
While Mother Teresa is commonly associated with Calcutta, India -- the city included in her heavenly title of Saint Teresa of Calcutta -- she spent the first 17 years of her life as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia before receiving her call to a vocation as a missionary sister in 1928.
The Mother Teresa Memorial House in Skopje, the saint’s former home-turned-museum, has welcomed visitors who desired to learn about St. Teresa and venerate one of her relics since 2009.
Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit Bulgaria after St. Pope John Paul II’s visit in 2002.
The motto for Pope Francis’ Bulgarian trip is “Pacem in Terris,” recalling St. John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical of the same name. Before becoming pope, St. John XXIII was the first apostolic visitor and then apostolic delegate to Bulgaria from 1925 to 1931.
Church leaders in both Bulgaria and Macedonia invited Pope Francis to visit their respective countries, the Dec. 13 Vatican message stated.
According to the U.S. State Department, Bulgaria’s Catholics make up only 0.8 percent of its population. Seventy-six percent of Bulgarians are Eastern Orthodox Christian, mostly in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The second largest religious group in the country are Muslims at 10 percent of the population.
In Macedonia, an estimated 65 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian and 33 percent is Muslim.
The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis will also visit Panama, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco in 2019 before his trip to Bulgaria and Macedonia.
Posted on 12/13/2018 11:21 AM (CNA Daily News)
New York City, N.Y., Dec 13, 2018 / 03:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As rent prices increase in New York City, so does its homeless population, affecting not only adults throughout the city but children as well.
Roughly 1 out of 10 public school students in New York City are homeless, and these children often face significant challenges in completing their education.
According to a report from the state Education Department’s Student Information Repository System, a record high of 114, 659 students in the city’s public schools are homeless. The number has increased by 66 percent since 2010.
Brett Hartford, outreach director for New York City Relief, pointed to two major factors contributing to an increase in homelessness. First, the cheap areas of rent have turned into trendy spots, and rent prices have become astronomical. Second, he said, a rent voucher system was dropped by city about 10 years ago.
Under the policy, vouchers were given to individuals who had some source of income but did not have enough to cover rent. Subsidizing homes would then give these people a place to stay in exchange for the voucher, which the city would reimburse.
When the city no longer honored the vouchers, the subsidizing organizations stopped getting paid and lost out on millions. Although the system has been reinstituted since, he said, those companies no longer trust the vouchers will be honored and very few accept them.
Hartford told CNA that the city has laws to help individuals who have been evicted from their homes, but these policies often create situations that can be disruptive for schooling.
If families do not have anywhere to stay, the government will temporarily place them somewhere in New York City, he said, explaining that families may be moved across the city, sometimes a two-hour train ride away from their previous life.
This puts immense wear-and-tear on families, who may have difficulty traveling to work and school, he said.
Furthermore, the housing in which families are placed is often not ideal, with shared bathrooms and no secure place to lock up personal items. Once a family is assigned somewhere, Hartford said, they cannot apply for another location until a year later.
Amy Lacey, director of emergency services for Albany Catholic Charities, described to CNA the challenges facing homeless students.
When someone does not have a stable place to live, she explained, survival becomes the only goal.
“When an individual is homeless, that is the primary concern. It’s not whether the child gets up and goes to school, it’s let me make sure I have a roof over my head,” she said.
“They need to know that each day they are going to have a place to come home to, have a place to lay their head, have a place to come back to where someone is going to care for them.”
Lacey also said access to bus routes or public transportation may not always be an option, especially for chronically homeless families.
“Sometimes we have people who come into shelter who are not even at their own school district anymore.”
According to the New York Times, homeless children on average miss about 30 days of school a year. Of those living in the NYC shelters during the 2015-16 school year, only 12 percent passed the math exam for the state and 15 percent passed English.
Catholic Charities helps with the physical needs of homeless people in the Albany area – offering shelter, food, hygiene products and baby supplies – but also works through case managers to discuss education with parents.
“Having that case management for every homeless case is very important,” Lacey said. “That is someone who can sit down with a parent, sit down with a child, and say ‘where are your struggles right now?’”
“We deal with families who often time have multiple children and sometimes it is the responsibility of the oldest child to care for the youngest children,” she said, noting school for those children may be placed on the back burner. “So it is helping to change that mindset.”
She said the greatest need of young homeless people is someone to guide them and show concern. This begins with personal relationships, she said, adding that it is time and interest that truly help children improve and develop.
“What is really needed is individuals need to be able to step into the young person’s life, whether that is a guidance counselor, a teacher, a mentor, to let that child know that they are valuable, that they are worthy, and that they are intelligent.”
Posted on 12/13/2018 03:01 AM (CNA Daily News)
Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Religious freedom problems in Pakistan have led the US Department of State to designate the country as of “particular concern,” with nine others, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said Tuesday.
“I recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; I welcome such initiatives and look forward to continuing the dialogue,” Pompeo said Dec. 11.
In addition to Pakistan, Pompeo listed Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. This means he believes they have engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, (and) egregious violations of religious freedom.” The designation took place Nov. 28, Pompeo said.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom makes recommendations to the State Department about the list. Its April 2018 report examined religious freedom threats in Pakistan and around the world.
In December 2017, Islamic State group-affiliated suicide bombers attacked a church in Quetta, killing nine people. The run-up to the national elections in July 2018 exacerbated religious tensions in the country. According to the USCIRF report, approximately 40 people sentenced under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were awaiting the death penalty or serving life sentences.
“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Pompeo said Tuesday. “The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.”
“Safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity,” he continued. “These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies.”
CNA contacted USCIRF for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
In April, USCIRF Chair Daniel Mark told CNA he was particularly concerned about Pakistan.
“Matters concerning Pakistan are very sensitive on account of the fact that they are a partner of ours in combating terrorism around the world in the war in Afghanistan and so on,” Mark said. “But, given the rise of extremism in Pakistan... we really do think that pressure should be kept up, notwithstanding the cooperation that our two countries need.”
“Pakistan is a world leader in imprisonment and convictions, prosecutions for blasphemy and apostasy, and those sorts of things,” said Mark.
Asia Bibi, a Christian mother and field laborer, was among those facing blasphemy prosecution, spending eight years in prison despite her protestations of innocence. The Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted her of blasphemy charges in late October. The acquittal prompted protests and death threats. Her life is still in danger, as the ruling is under government review as part of a deal to appease groups that were leading riots in the streets.
Bibi’s family has sought asylum for her in the U.S., the U.K., or other countries in Europe. Italy has offered to help her find asylum.
Mark said conditions in Pakistan are bad at the legal level, such as the second-class citizenship treatment of the Ahmadi religious minority. There is also a growing “culture of impunity” in society, with vigilante mobs attacking people on the basis of blasphemy accusations.
Pompeo placed Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on the special watch list for having engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” In January the State Department had named Uzbekistan a country of particular concern.
The special watch list is a new designation, created by Congress’ 2016 amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act. Pakistan was first named to the watch list in December 2017.
Another list, entities of particular concern, includes al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, the Islamic State Group, the Islamic State Group in Khorasan, and the Taliban.
Pompeo noted his work as Secretary of State in hosting the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July, which brought together 85 governments and 400 NGOs that aimed to advance religious freedom.
“The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world,” Pompeo said.