October 6, 2020
How far can -- and should -- the U.S. government go in punishing nations which we find guilty of persecuting religious believers and groups? During this session of congress, religious persecution has been a hotly debated topic on Capitol Hill. On one side are many religious groups, ranging from liberal, mainstream denominations to fundamentalists and organizations like Christian Coalition. They see the need for American foreign policy to take into consideration the domestic policies of nations which discriminate, and persecute certain religious groups -- usually Christian. A Freedom From Religious Persecution Bill was proposed. It singled-out many Middle East nations where Islam is the predominant religion, and called for sanctions.
Many groups, including some business interests, fear that using religious tolerance as a litmus test in foreign policy would be counterproductive. The U.S. Department of State expressed concerns over the original FFRPA as well, suggesting that a policy of "engagement" is often more effective than punitive courses of action.
For Atheists, though, the issue of "religious persecution" rings hollow. Many of the examples cited by the groups lobbying for FFRPA involve countries with "established" or official religions to begin with. American Atheists has charged that the newly discovered concern by Pat Robertson and others over "human rights" is biased and selective. Are the religious groups now speaking out against "persecution" willing to embrace a robust notion of human rights, one that includes individuals and movements other than churches or believers? Do labor movements, womens' rights organizations, journalists and intellectuals fall under the umbrella of "human rights," as Robertson is using the term? Maybe not...
Another concern for American Atheists is the fate of non-religious individuals who speak out against religion-based oppression, as in the case of Atheist writers like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin. Mr. Rushdie has been under a death sentence since 1989, when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran ruled that his novel, The Satanic Verses, had "insulted" Islamic beliefs. Taslima Nasrin is being hunted by authorities after returning to her native Bangladesh, following a four-year self-imposed exile. Her "crime" is speaking out on behalf of rights for women, and calling for the replacement of religious law with enlightened civil codes.
With both the Rushdie and Nasrin cases in the news, this AMERICAN ATHEIST MAGAZINE poll deals with questions of "blasphemy," human rights, and the role (if any) of government in this equation. Cast your vote on several question; and leave your comments for others to read.
If you want additional background, read these stories from Flash Line:
Note: On October 19, 2020, American Atheists held a peaceful protest in front of the Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington D.C. on behalf of Taslima Nasrin. Here is the report.
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