My awareness of the US State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom (“OIRF”) proceeded from my experiences and relationship with Scientology. I won’t take up time with describing the Scientology religion, or cult, or scam, or intelligence agency. And I will not go into my very long history with the Scientologists. All of this is publicly and freely available.
There are a few events, however, that must be mentioned to get to the OIRF and its “Religious Freedom” program and reports in 2021. For many years the relevant US Federal Governments departments – FBI, DOJ, IRS — opposed Scientology and denied it tax exemption and the status of federally-acceptable religious organization. The Federal authorities knew the Scientologists were defrauding the Government and citizens, and were abusing people and violating civil rights, including freedom of religion
In 1977, the FBI executed the biggest raid in its history on the Scientologists’ Intelligence offices in Los Angeles and Washington, DC. The DOJ prosecuted and convicted eleven Scientologists for crimes against the US. Scientology intelligence operatives were able to burglarize or penetrate and rob over one hundred State and Federal offices. In the 1980’s, the Eleven, including the wife of Scientology inventor L. Ron Hubbard, were sent to Federal prison.
In 1991, however, if not earlier, the US ended its opposition and instead made the Scientologists assets. The Government and Scientology’s leaders began a “negotiation,” which lasted more than two years. The clear goal of this negotiation was to cement this new Government-asset relationship and give it the appearance of legality. In 1993, the US gave the many Scientology entities tax exemption, and began to protect and promote the Scientologists domestically and internationally.
To capitalize on this strategic decision, the US initiated programs, both in its own Federal departments and in its courts, to expand and formalize the use of “religious freedom” for global, hegemonic purposes. Congress passed the “International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, (“IRFA”) and President Clinton signed it into law. The Act established the OIRF, an “Ambassador At Large for International Religious Freedom,” a “Commission on International Religious Freedom,” and a “Special Adviser on International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council.”
The stated justifications for the OIRF’s creation and its stated goals are quite noble:
- Freedom of religious belief and practice is a universal human right
- It shall be the policy of the United States to condemn violations of religious freedom
- Standing for liberty and standing with the persecuted, to use and implement appropriate tools in the United States foreign policy apparatus … to promote respect for religious freedom by all governments and peoples.
The OIRC states on its home page that it:
promotes universal respect for freedom of religion or belief for all as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. We monitor religiously motivated abuses, harassment, and discrimination worldwide, and recommend, develop, and implement policies and programs to address these concerns.
The office carries out its mission through the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom which describes the status of religious freedom in every country. The report covers government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world.
There are falsehoods in these statements, and a monstrous omission.
It is not the policy of the US to condemn all religious freedom violations. The US condemns other countries’ religious freedom violations. But it says nothing about such violations by its own government, its courts, its religions, groups and citizens. This is the essence of hypocrisy.
The OIRF does not monitor religiously motivated abuses, harassment, and discrimination worldwide. It conspicuously omits the US. It omits the country and people who fund the OIRF.
The OIRF’s annual report does not describe the status of religious freedom in every country. It says nothing about religious freedom in the US.
I’m taking here the first sentence on Wikipedia from its entry for “hypocrisy:” “the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another or the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.”
A huge, worldwide threat we all face that would cost nothing to cure is US hypocrisy. Underlying that is the American assumption of American exceptionalism. Where this shows up most ironically is in the realm of religious freedom. Hypocrisy is a Biblical concept, hated by God.
Scientology is an excellent example of the US’s exceptional hypocrisy. The US does not stand for the persecuted, but around the world stands for the persecutors. The US condemns other countries for the Scientologists, but will not acknowledge the Scientologists’ victims. We are victims of religious persecution tolerated or abetted by the US Government.
The US could legitimately be in a position in which it can unhypocritically critique and even condemn other nations’ policies and actions about claimed religions and their claimed freedoms. It would first have to tell the truth about what it, itself, had done, and is doing, which it hasn’t told the truth about — a sort of US truth commission.
Regardless of what the US does, what other countries and peoples can do is insist that the US accept criticism or condemnation for its own abuses in religious freedom. If it will not accept criticism of its own shortcomings, the rest of the world can suspend any support for the US’s International Religious Freedom program.
Exceptionalism licenses the country with a beam in its eye to monitor other countries for motes in their eyes and publish annual reports about all the motes being found. The US must first cast out the beam from its own eye; then shall it see clearly to cast out the mote out of others’ eyes.
(Presented on February 25, 2021 at a conference organized in Paris, France by the International Center for the Study of Eurasia. The conference theme was “Nation State and the New Transnational Forms of Religious Consciousness.”)