- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2019

A recent bombing at an Afghan wedding and near-daily attacks on churches in Northern Ireland have contributed to one of the deadliest years for religious folk in recent memory.

U.S. officials say it’s not an abstract human rights issue but a foreign policy concern for the nation.

“Advancing religious freedom is a foreign policy priority for this administration, and we remain committed to promoting and protecting religious freedom for all groups,” a staffer for Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said Thursday.

Attacks on people of faith this year have shattered families, devastated ceremonies and terrorized communities, leaving a bloody trail of tears and heartbreak.

• The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a Shiite Muslim wedding celebration at a crowded hall in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Saturday that killed 63 people and wounded 180 others. The Sunni jihadi group considers Shiites as apostates to the Salafi fundamentalist interpretation of Islam it follows.

• A group that monitors religious extremism released a report this week noting that more than 455 criminal attacks against places of worship in Northern Ireland over the past three years, including paramilitary graffiti sprayed on a Catholic church in County Londonderry and two arson attacks against a Presbyterian church in Belfast. Catholics and Protestants have been in conflict in Northern Ireland for decades, and the prospect of a post-Brexit hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has raised fears of heightened violence.

• In March, a man agitated by Muslim migration into Europe went on a shooting rampage at two mosques in New Zealand, killing 51 worshippers.

• In April, an Islamic fundamentalist group killed more than 300 Christians worshipping during Easter in Sri Lanka.

• In October, an avowed white supremacist used four guns, including a semi-automatic weapon, to kill a dozen Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The violence, reminiscent of the darkest days of the 20th century, has alarmed world leaders.

The United Nations on Thursday observed an International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, established with a Security Council vote in May. The text of the resolution did not name any single attack but said all attacks on “religious minorities” have an “international characteristic.”

“It is an issue that affects communities around the world, from Uighur and Falun Gong in China to Jews in Tunisia and Argentina to Christians in Iraq and Syria to humanists in Bangladesh,” said a social media post by Katharine Thane, senior researcher and policy adviser to the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. “Freedom of religion or belief is a very fundamental human right and it cuts to the very core of who we are people as humans.”

The New York Times reported Thursday that only a few dozen Rohingya Muslims have returned to Myanmar after three-quarters of a million fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution by the nation’s Buddhist majority.

A seminar on religious freedom hosted this summer by the State Department and Mr. Brownback highlighted the worldwide concerns of violence against people of faith.

“This is not an exercise here in trying to achieve some sort of common theology,” Mr. Brownback told those assembled at the seminar’s opening session.

World leaders have long addressed the fear of religious intolerance metastasizing into violence. The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, upholds freedom to practice religion in Article 18, which trumpets the right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

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