In nations like China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, state-sponsored religious persecution often infects other areas of civil society and stifles other personal freedoms. The case of Hao Wu in China demonstrates this reality.
On February 22nd, the Chinese government arrested Mr. Wu, a filmmaker who, after spending twelve years in the U.S. -- including a few years in my state as a legal permanent resident -- recently returned to his native China to create a documentary on the underground church movement. Although Chinese officials have not given any explanation for his detainment, it seems clear from his ongoing detention that his film project was an irritant to the Chinese government, the same government the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently recommended be kept on the State Department’s list of "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPCs): nations whose human rights records are particularly execrable and warrant particular attention.
Beijing officially recognizes only state-approved churches and permits only them to meet in public. Recognition of non-sanctioned churches or religious groups comes in the form of arrests, beatings, and persecution of Christians, Buddhists, the Falun Gong, and in some cases, similar treatment for their family members as well. What makes Mr. Wu’s case unique is that he is not a member of any religious community, sanctioned or not.
Recently the President of China visited the White House, where President Bush said, "China can grow even more successful by allowing the Chinese people the freedom to assemble, to speak freely, and to worship." President Bush understands that religious freedom is intimately connected to other personal liberties: freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right to a fair trial. Chapters two and three of the Bush administration’s 2006 National Security Strategy outline the president's commitment to encouraging freedom of religious expression throughout the world.
While I share President Bush’s commitment to international religious freedom, I believe our government needs to rethink its understanding of religious freedom in relation to our foreign policy strategies. And by supporting international religious freedom through every avenue available to us, we may begin to stem the tide of religious persecution that washes over far too much of our world.
Former Senator Rick Santorum is the author of Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works.
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