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Gov’t restrictions on religion at high levels worldwide even before COVID-19 lockdowns: Pew report


Reported By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter | Monday, October 04, 2021

Read more at https://www.christianpost.com/news/govt-restrictions-on-religion-worldwide-at-high-levels-pew.html/

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The Colosseum is lit up in red to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world in Rome, Italy, February 24, 2018. | Reuters/Remo Casilli

Government restrictions on religious practice remained high during the year before the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center. Pew released findings from its 12th annual study on global religious persecution Thursday, analyzing 198 countries during 2019, the most recent year with data available.

When it came to public policy and laws that infringed on religious practices, 2019 had a similar rate of intolerance to 2018, which was noted as a year with a high rate of government-imposed restrictions. Pew found that 57 countries had “high” or “very high” restrictions on religious practice, which was slightly higher than 2018’s 56 countries that reported the same and the highest rate since 2012, which also reported 57 countries. It was also a considerable increase from 2014, when 47 countries were listed as having “high” or “very high” government restrictions on religious belief and practice.

“The analysis shows that government restrictions involving religion, which in 2018 had reached the highest point since the start of the study, remained at a similar level in 2019,” explained Pew.

“The global median score on the Government Restrictions Index (GRI), a 10-point index based on 20 indicators, held steady at 2.9. This score has risen markedly since 2007, the first year of the study, when it was 1.8.”

While government restrictions across the world remained high in 2019, the level of social hostilities toward religion and religious terrorism both saw a decline compared to earlier years. Pew found that 43 countries were found to have “high” or “very high” social hostilities regarding religion, which was lower than the 53 countries reporting the same in 2018 and well below the 65 countries reporting the same in 2012. Additionally, there was a decline reported in the number of countries experiencing “religion-related terrorism,” defined as including “deaths, physical abuse, displacement, detentions, destruction of property, and fundraising and recruitment by terrorist groups.”

“In 2019, 49 countries experienced at least one of these types of religion-related terrorism, a record low for the study. That was down from 64 countries in 2018, and from a record high of 82 countries in 2014,” continued Pew.

“Among the reasons for the decline in the study’s terrorism measures is that ISIS subsequently lost control of a large swath of territory in Iraq and Syria,” The report added. 

In 2017, the Trump administration declared that the U.S.-led coalition had defeated the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and seized the de facto capital of its self-declared caliphate in Raqqa, Syria. On Dec. 9 of that same year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared that the country is now “fully liberated” from ISIS.  

Since 2014, it’s believed that over 40,000 people from more than 110 countries had traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS’ caliphate. In the U.K., it was estimated that more British Muslims were fighting for IS than served in its armed forces. Although U.S.-led troops killed tens of thousands of jihadis, insurgents still remain in parts of the country and ISIS terror cells are operating worldwide. 

The Pew report added that “the number of violent attacks perpetrated by the group declined in Iraq in 2019, according to the Global Terrorism Database.’

“Still, ISIS’ multinational network of organizations remained active. Groups pledging allegiance to ISIS carried out bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, 2019, killing more than 250 people and injuring approximately 500 others at churches and hotels,” Pew added. 

Pew noted that the numbers reported in this study came before the 2020 government lockdowns that took place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which often involved controversial measures believed by many to be in violation of civil liberties, including freedom of religion. There has been extensive litigation in the United States aimed at state-level measures that critics claimed unlawfully treated houses of worship worse than comparable non-religious businesses. In the decision Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that pandemic restrictions could not treat churches worse than secular entities.

“ Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” read the majority opinion.

“The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

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White House unveils hostage policy review, takes heat for opening door to terror ransoms


waving flagPublished by FoxNews.com June 24, 2015

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Watch the latest video at <a href=”http://video.foxnews.com”>video.foxnews.com</a>

The Obama administration was accused Wednesday of giving terrorists an incentive to kidnap as it unveiled a hostage policy overhaul allowing families of U.S. hostages to pay ransom — and allowing the U.S. government to help families communicate with captors. “This doesn’t fix anything,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a leading critic of the administration’s hostage policy, told Fox News. “The money that we’re going to be paying ISIS is going to be used to buy arms and to buy equipment to fight Americans and to fight the Iraqis.” 

But the White House said the changes are being unveiled with the families and victims in mind. “We’re not going to abandon you. We’re going to stand by you,” Obama said of hostages’ families, speaking at the White House on Wednesday. The policy review was formally released shortly before noon, and includes a host of changes beyond the clarifications on ransom discussions — notably, the creation of a new bureaucratic structure for handling hostage cases.  The White House plans to establish a Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell responsible for coordinating the recovery of hostages; a Hostage Response Group responsible for coordinating hostage policies; and the position of “special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.” Obama said this is being done to sync up various efforts, citing past coordination problems. Picture3 crazy talk

This framework is also being met with mixed reviews, but much of the attention is on the newly clarified policies for communicating with terrorists. The White House sought the policy review last fall after the deaths of Americans held hostage by Islamic State militants. The families of some of those killed complained about their dealings with the administration, saying they were threatened with criminal prosecution if they pursued paying ransom in exchange for their loved ones’ release. 

In response, the administration made clear Wednesday that officials will no longer threaten hostages’ families with prosecution for dealing with and paying ransoms to terrorist captors.  The Justice Department said in a written statement: “The department does not intend to add to families’ pain in such cases by suggesting that they could face criminal prosecution.” There is not expected to be any formal change to the law. However, the administration made clear that the Justice Department has never prosecuted anyone for paying ransom and that will continue to be the case. The White House said in a statement that the government still takes a “no concessions” approach, and it continues to be U.S. policy to “deny hostage-takers the benefits of ransom.” But the same statement says this policy does not “preclude engaging in communications with hostage-takers.” muslim-obama

The White House made clear the U.S. government may, then, help facilitate communications with terrorists on behalf of the families. The directive said the U.S. “may assist private efforts” to communicate with hostage-takers, and may even “itself communicate with hostage-takers” to try to rescue hostages. White House counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco said the U.S. government, though, would not specifically facilitate ransom payments. 

The announcements still amount to a shift in the U.S. approach to hostages. It was considered a major break from past practice last year when the Obama administration traded five Taliban leaders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The latest policy changes could open the door to more deals, even if they are only struck with families of hostages. 

Critics worry they could also encourage more kidnappings, while effectively aiding the enemy. AMEN

“The concern that I have is that by lifting that long-held principle [of not paying ransoms], you could be endangering more Americans here and overseas,” House Speaker John Boehner said. “You’re going to have to have the government now facilitating payments from the families here to the terrorists there while at the same time we have troops on the ground … fighting the same people that we’re paying money to,” Hunter said Wednesday. “You’re worth more captured now than you would be otherwise.” Former House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers also voiced concern on a local talk radio station Tuesday evening that this would encourage more hostage-taking and ransom demands. 

Obama, though, stressed Wednesday that the U.S. government itself would not be paying ransoms. 

Four Americans have been killed by the Islamic State since last summer: journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. After the release of gruesome videos showing the beheadings of some hostages, Obama approved an airstrike campaign against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. 

The families’ anguish has been deepened by the fact that European governments routinely pay ransom for hostages and win their release. The U.S. says its prohibitions against the government and private individuals making any concessions to terrorist demands are aimed both at preventing more kidnappings and blocking more income for terror groups. However, the Obama administration did negotiate with the Taliban last year to win the release of Bergdahl. White House officials say those negotiations were permissible because Obama sees a special responsibility to leave no American service member behind on the battlefield. Bull

Elaine Weinstein, whose husband Warren Weinstein was accidentally killed by a U.S. drone strike in April while being held hostage by Al Qaeda, argued Tuesday against the government making such distinctions between U.S. citizens. “The people who take American citizens working abroad as hostages do not discriminate based on their job or employer, and neither should our government,” Weinstein said in a statement. 

The White House invited the families of 82 Americans held hostage since 2001 to participate in the review, and 24 agreed to do so. The National Counterterrorism Center, which oversaw the review, also consulted with hostage experts from the U.S. and other countries. As part of the review’s findings, the White House announced the creation of a hostage recovery “fusion cell” that will coordinate the multiple government agencies involved in such issues. The new office aims to address family frustrations about getting contradictory information from different agencies by creating a single point of contact. 

The administration is not acquiescing to the requests of some families to house the fusion cell in the White House’s National Security Council. Instead, the office will be at the FBI, and the director will be affiliated with the FBI. The cell will include representatives from the State Department, Treasury Department, CIA and other key agencies.  

Obama also announced the creation of a State Department special envoy post that will head the administration’s dealings with foreign governments on hostage matters. 

Fox News’ James Rosen and Doug McKelway and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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