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Religious Freedom

“Religious freedom,” said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “is a constitutional right for Americans. It is also a universal human right, enshrined time and again in international law and declarations.”

The U.S. State Department's latest report cites a number of areas where respect for religious freedom has improved. Georgia is a case in point, as there has been a decrease in attacks on religious minorities and the perpetrators of attacks have been tried and convicted. The State Department says, "The Georgian constitution recognizes the special role of the Georgian Orthodox Church in the country's history but also stipulates the independence of the Church from the State." New legislation allows non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups to register with the government. As a result, such groups can now rent property and no longer face fines.

In some countries such as Turkmenistan, the state of religious freedom is mixed, as John Hanford, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom notes:

“In Turkmenistan, where serious violations of religious freedom persist, we saw hopeful signs with the streamlining of registration procedures and the registration of a number of new religious groups. Last year, the government substantially revamped laws regulating religious activities. They decriminalized violations of religious policies. They released all religious prisoners. And just recently, the government conducted a first-ever roundtable with representatives of religious minorities to begin addressing their concerns.”

Elsewhere, serious abuses continue. Another oppressive country is Uzbekistan, where the law on religion is used against both Muslims and Christians. In thousands of cases, the Uzbek government has made false assertions that observant Muslims are members of extremist organizations with the result that many observant non-extremist Muslims live in fear that their religious activities alone may provoke official suspicion or even arrest. The U.S. will continue to press the Uzbek government to revise its laws and allow more freedom of religion.

“Our goal,” said Secretary of State Rice, “is to promote the fundamental right of religious freedom as a part of what President Bush calls ‘our agenda for a freer world, where people can live and worship and raise their children as they choose.’”

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.