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The President Cannot Ignore Persecution in State of the Union

On January 25, 2011, President Barack Obama’s will lay out his priorities for 2011 at his annual State of the Union address. Although there are many important points on President Obama’s agenda, the president must be mindful of the deteriorating condition of religious freedom around the world when he addresses Congress.

The current state of religious freedom in the Middle East in particular and on a global scale in general is highly troubling. Recent months have indicated a shift towards increasingly repressive and violent acts of religious persecution, as evidenced by Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s assassination by a bodyguard who was disturbed by the Governor’s disapproval of blasphemy laws.

The attacks on Coptic Christians on New Year’s Eve in Alexandria, Egypt, and the recurring violence against Christians in Iraq are just two examples that clearly demonstrate the vulnerabilities of religious minorities. While these incidents shine a particular light on the circumstances of religious persecution in the world, they are but only two examples in the midst of a world climate ridden with heightening religious fundamentalism and oppression. The significance of bettering their conditions in the moment can help both to further religious freedom in the whole of the Middle East, and to serve as the emblem for the United States’ dedication to the defense of religious freedom.

As Mr. Obama said in his recent statement addressing the attacks on the Christian communities in Egypt, “The perpetrators of this attack were clearly targeting Christian worshipers, and have no respect for human life and dignity. They must be brought to justice for this barbaric and heinous act”. I agree with these sentiments and believe that the distinctly deteriorating patterns of escalating violence and considerable global indifference are devastating religious minority communities around the world. And we as a nation cannot afford to ignore this.

It is clear that the magnitude of this issue is one that merits pointed condemnation, and would be best addressed in the State of the Union. It is critical that President Obama publicly implore the Iraqi and Egyptian governments to prioritize and implement strategies to safeguard citizens of all religions, protect vulnerable communities, and prosecute those responsible for these atrocious acts of violence. By doing so, he puts persecutors everywhere on notice that the United States is taking notice, and will not stand idly by as innocent victims are tortured, abused, and murdered for their fundamental rights.

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