- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2019

Two congressman — a Maryland Democrat and the Republican Chair of the Freedom Caucus — have introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning “blasphemy” laws, a move cheered by religious liberty advocates.

Rep. Jamie Raskin and North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows call on more than 70 governments to repeal laws punishing religious dissent, including blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy, or the renunciation of a religious belief, in House Resolution 512, which was introduced earlier this week.

Under the legislation, Congress would recognize that “blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws inappropriately position governments as arbiters of religious truth and empower officials to impose religious dogma on individuals or minorities through the power of the government or through violence sanctioned by the government.”

Religious freedom restrictions are on the rise, according to alarming new reports from international organization’s watchdog reports. The resolution cites some, including Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist organization,” the detention of nearly a million Uighur Muslims in northwest China, and Pakistan’s use of wide-ranging blasphemy laws.

“[A]s of May 2018, USCIRF [The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom] was aware of approximately 40 individuals on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan or serving life sentences,” states the resolution,” reads the resolution, which was introduced in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

On Friday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan group established by Congress, cheered the resolution, saying such laws are often weaponized to target marginalized religious communities.

“Widespread bipartisan support for this resolution will help to raise awareness of the egregious acts of persecution and violence that these laws legitimize,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin, in a statement emailed to media. “We echo the resolution’s call for all prisoners held on blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy charges to be released.”

The United Nations, through Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also uphold civil rights for religious practice and expression and are endorsed by HR 512.

Currently, the President and the Secretary of State can designate countries as “countries of particular concern for religious freedom” under 1998’s federal international religious freedom act. This resolution would add blasphemy, apostasy, and heresy as reasons for nations to be added to the list.

In its latest report from December 2018, USIRF requested that 16 nations — including Russia, Pakistan, and China — be placed on the “nation of particular concern” list. As of Nov. 2018, only 10 of those nations have been designated as CPCs (Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan).

The resolution also notes nations that’ve taken steps to repeal blasphemy laws, including Ireland, Greece, and Canada. Earlier this year, the Republic of Ireland passed a law repealing a 2009 statute that criminalized blasphemy. Canada also criminalized “blasphemous libel” until 2018, though the statute had not resulted in a conviction since 1935.

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