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Obama vows to protect religious minorities at home and abroad

January 16, 2016 15:00 IST

United States President Barack Obama on Saturday vowed to protect religious minorities both at home and abroad, even as a top American official said that Muslims in India and Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan are facing threat.

"Our commitment to religious freedom has fostered unprecedented religious diversity and freedom of religious practice. But these ideals are not self-executing. Rather, they require a sustained commitment by each generation to uphold and preserve them," Obama said as he proclaimed January 16, 2016 as Religious Freedom Day.

This work is crucial, particularly given the recent spike in reports of threats and violence against houses of worship, children and adults simply because of their religious affiliation, said the US president.

Obama made no reference to any country in his speech but said that his administration works to promote religious freedom around the globe.

"We are working with a broad coalition against those who have subjected religious minorities to unspeakable violence and persecution, and we are mobilising religious and  civic leaders to defend vulnerable religious communities," he said.

Calling for elimination of improper restrictions that suppress religious practice, he sought to coordinate with governments around the world to promote religious freedom for citizens of every faith.

"All people deserve the fundamental dignity of practicing their faith free from fear, intimidation and violence," Obama said.

"May we remember those who have been persecuted, tortured or murdered for their faith and reject any politics that targets people because of their religion, including any suggestion that our laws, policies, or practices should single out certain faiths for disfavored treatment," he said.

"And as one nation, let us state clearly and without equivocation that an attack on any faith is an attack on every faith and come together to promote religious freedom for all," Obama said.

Meanwhile in a blog, Knox Thames, Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour in the US department of state, said that Muslims in India and Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan are facing threat.

"The rising tide of restrictions on freedom of religion is a crisis that is emerging worldwide and has disproportionately threatened religious minority groups. This threat touches communities all around the globe, as every faith group is a minority somewhere," wrote Thames.

"Whether Christians in the Middle East, Yazidis in Iraq, Baha’is in Iran, Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh, Muslims in India, or Sunni Muslims in Shia areas or vice versa,  the threat is clear and present," Thames said

Obama said that at home his administration is working to preserve religious liberty and enforce civil rights laws that protect religious freedom -- including laws that protect employees from religious discrimination and require reasonable accommodation of religious practices on the job.

"We will keep upholding the right of religious communities to establish places of worship and protecting the religious rights of those so often forgotten by society, such as incarcerated persons and individuals confined to institutions," he said.

The administration will continue to protect students from discrimination and harassment that is based on their faith and will continue to enforce hate crime laws, including those perpetrated based on a person's actual or perceived religion, the president asserted.

Every year the US President proclaims January 16 as the Religious Freedom day.

The day is the anniversary of the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. That statute became the basis for the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution and led to freedom of religion for all Americans.

Image: US President Barack Obama delivers remarks to promote themes from his State of the Union address at McKinley High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Photographer: Carlos Barria

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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