Archbishop Chaput on Religious Freedom

Reflects on Work for U.S. Agency

DENVER, Colorado, JUNE 22, 2007 ( Many nations pay lip service to religious freedom, says Archbishop Charles Chaput, but few do much about it.

The archbishop of Denver recently completed two terms on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent agency formed in 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of religion abroad, defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Appointed by U.S. President George Bush, Archbishop Chaput expected to serve just one term, but remained on the commission for four years.

Speaking with ZENIT about his tenure on the commission, Archbishop Chaput spoke of the difficulties to gain advances in religious freedom: “Everybody pays it lip service because of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but outside the United States, few countries try to do anything about it, and in extremist states like Iran and North Korea, the idea of religious freedom really has no meaning at all.”

“So a great deal of work remains to be done.”

Daunting task

Regarding progress made by the commission, Archbishop Chaput said: “It’s very hard to measure because there’s such a gulf between the letter of the law and the way the law is applied or ignored in so many countries.

“The commission is important as a witness for international religious freedom. That alone makes it worth the effort. But curiously, our own State Department often resists the work of the commission for diplomatic reasons.”

“Some of America’s ‘friends,'” added the 62-year-old prelate, “are among the worst violators of religious freedom — starting with Saudi Arabia.”

The commission ranks countries according to practices that limit religious freedom.

Countries that cause the highest level of concern are called Countries of Particular Concern. The CPC list comprises Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

There is also a Watch List. The countries on this list are Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria.

In the U.S.

Asked about religious freedom in the United States, Archbishop Chaput said that “Americans enjoy a high degree of religious freedom.”

“That’s no surprise,” he said, “because the origins of the United States are so heavily influenced by Christian faith. But we take our freedom for granted. This is unwise.”

However, the prelate added: “I think there’s a kind of secularist bigotry taking shape in this country that’s very sad.

“Christopher Lasch wrote about it back in the early 1990s, shortly before his death. his book ‘The Revolt of the Elites’ should be on every Catholic’s must-read list.”

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