Posts Tagged ‘IRFA’

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego…

June 1, 2010 1 comment

Does anybody else have fond memories of the old computer game – and television game show – “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”

You know the one I mean: the game that teaches kids about geography, history, and international affairs. The basic premise of the franchise has the user being agents of the ACME Detective Agency, which attempts to thwart and capture V.I.L.E. ringleader and former ACME agent Carmen Sandiego.

In the reality of impending 2010 mid-term elections, Carmen Sandiego is the religious freedom ambassador of the Obama Administration. Eighteen months into his Administration, President Barack Obama has STILL failed to nominate an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom as required under the unanimoulsy passed 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.

While rumor has it that the President has already chosen Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook for the post, there is significant opposition to her potential nomination. The opposition to her comes from some heavy hands in the religious liberty world and seems to be grounded in the belief that she is not qualified for the post.

Some of those opposed to Reverend Cook have even gone so far as to try to recruit another candidate for the post, Leah Daughtry. Daughtry had taken herself out of the running for the ambassadorship.

One Cook opponent says that Daughtry,

took herself out of the running in large part because she asked for the kind of independence and status within State that you and I have long advocated, and was refused. She reportedly wasn’t interested in taking the job if she couldn’t have the authority she needed to do it well.

While some are advocating Daughtry for the post, she too comes with significant qualifications limitations. Her only significant relevance seems to be that she was head of the Democratic Party’s Faith in Action initiative to reach out to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim voters when Howard Dean was DNC Chair.

I also need to make a point I’ve made before but it bears repeating: by this point in the first Bush term, John Hanford had been chosen, nominated, confirmed by the Senate, and sworn into office. Regardless of whether or not we approved of the Bush Administration or Ambassador Hanford’s handling of the job, we have to acknowledge that a lack of an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom 18 months into a presidency says quite a lot about President Obama’s interest in the issue.

I wonder if we could get Broderbund Software co-founder Gary Carlston and programmer Dane Bigham to come up with a “Where in the World is the IRF Ambassador” game to help the President out…


Obama’s Potemkin Village

March 29, 2010 1 comment

This week, I am being inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr Board of Sponsors of Morehouse College. It is indeed an overwhelming honor for me.

But besides being an honor, it is a call to action.

Morehouse states the following about those inducted:

Because of the crises of character in America requiring more ethically and spiritually oriented role models and moral examples, those inducted into the Morehouse College prophetic religious tradition, are charged and challenged to be examples for this generation of students, remembering that our vision is the creation of a global society in which the full development of each individual’s potential is the central goal. They are to use their time, talent and resources to help usher in an age of peace and nonviolence for the children of the world and to raise another generation of morally inspired leaders committed to building the “Beloved Community.”

The last eleven years have been an ongoing struggle to usher in that age of peace and nonviolence. For me, that age of peace and nonviolence has been for religious minorities, agnostics, and atheists.

But that struggle has not gotten easier; in fact has gotten much more difficult. The cause of the greater obstacles, interestingly enough, is not always an increase in discrimination and persecution, but also an increase in apathy and a decrease in attention.

The US Congress’s 1998 unanimous passage of the International Religious Freedom Act was meant to engage the United States Government in the protection of religious believers and non-believers globally. Instead, the law has been minimally followed by all three Administrations since its passage.

And while each Administration was terrible, this Administration so far is the worst.

By this point in the Bush Administration, an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom (whose position was created in the IRFA of 1998) was nominated, confirmed, and preparing to be sworn in. The Obama Administration has not even gotten so far as to name anyone yet.

If that were the only failing of the Obama Administration on religious liberty, I wouldn’t be so critical. But the facts are far worse.

See, the Clinton State Department has decided that the Ambassador will not even manage her own staff. Instead, the Office Director and staff report to a Deputy Assistant Secretary, while the Ambassador is to report to the Assistant Secretary for Human Rights – which is a violation of IRFA. By law, the Ambassador at Large is the principle advisor to the President and Secretary of State. As such, she should report to the President and the Secretary of State, not a lowly Assistant Secretary.

That Office of International Religious Freedom staff, already overworked and understaffed, is now reporting to the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Now it appears that the Front Office is asking the staff to focus even more on anti-Semitism and interfaith dialogue at the expense of the work that the staff is supposed to be doing under the IRF Act, and while they’re already short staffed. The IRF office has not hired a single Civil Servant in over two years.

The Obama Administration came into office with a fresh vision of new relations with the Islamic World, a commitment to human rights, and a dedication to combat religious discrimination.

Instead, the Obama Administration has created a religious liberty Potemkin Village, undermining Congressional intent and the letter of the International Religious Freedom Act.

And don’t think people aren’t noticing: religious discriminators and persecutors understand that this Administration has no interest in defending fundamental human rights. And while the president has said a lot of nice words, his actions – and lack thereof – have spoken far more loudly, far more clearly, and have been heard far more broadly.

As I prepare to be awarded in the name of Martin Luther King, I too can hear a message:

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.

Since the freedom of nearly 70% of the world’s population that faces religious discrimination and persecution on a daily basis is of no interest to the President or his Administration, I will straighten my back and continue to work for freedom.

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