"Deepening crisis": This phrase was used at a conference on international religious liberty at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12. The timing of the gathering, which included activists, diplomats and prominent religious leaders, took on a heightened significance, as it was held just hours after attacks against U.S. consulates and embassies in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, violent incidents that were ostensibly sparked by religious outrage.
In the midst of these attacks, which resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, among others, the mindset of the Obama administration was more fully revealed on the world stage. The initial reaction came in the form of a statement: "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions ... Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."
This would later be amended by the White House, which was not consulted on the release -- but in the clarification, we actually saw a reinforcement. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "I know it is hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day ... But even if it were possible, our country does have a long tradition of free expression, which is enshrined in our Constitution and our law. And we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful they may be."
"The evidence points to a crisis -- one that is not simply 'out there' in the Third World, but one whose symptoms are appearing close to home," Thomas F. Farr, a diplomat by training and director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, said at the CUA conference. "70 percent of the world lives in countries that have severe restrictions on religious freedom," Farr noted. It's a problem that is "particularly acute in Muslim-majority countries, but also countries such as China, India and Russia." It is "getting worse" and that is "having an impact on Western countries, including the United States; worldwide, Christians are the most vulnerable to persecution."