Despite law, State Department misses deadline to name religious freedom violators

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks on the release of the 2016 annual report on International Religious Freedom on Aug. 15, 2017, at the State Department in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(RNS) — The U.S. State Department often misses its deadline to release a list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom — or doesn’t release a list at all. This year, Congress had hoped to break it of the habit.

In December, lawmakers passed a law mandating that the department name those “Countries of Particular Concern” within 90 days of releasing its International Religious Freedom report.

That report came out on Aug. 15, making Monday (Nov. 13) the deadline for the State Department. But there is still no list of CPCs, even though Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said religious freedom is a “human rights priority” for the Trump administration.

The delay bothers some religious freedom watchdogs, including members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan body set up by Congress in 1998 to monitor the issue.

“Failing to designate CPCs tells the violators of religious freedom around the world that the United States is looking away,” USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark said in a written statement.

The Countries of Particular Concern are a list of nations that violate religious freedom in a “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” way, according to USCIRF.

USCIRF must provide its own list of recommended CPCs to the State Department by May 1, according to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The department does not always include all of the commission’s recommendations on its list — the one to which world leaders pay more careful attention.

In April, USCIRF recommended 16 countries as Countries of Particular Concern, including North Korea, China and, for the first time in the history of the list, Russia. The commission noted in its report that in 2016, Russia has passed a new law “effectively criminalizing all private religious speech not sanctioned by the state,” all but banned Jehovah’s Witnesses and tried Muslims “on fabricated charges of terrorism and extremism.”

Watchdogs had hoped the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act passed last year would prod the State Department to release its list sooner, Mark told RNS, “but they did miss the deadline.”  

The act, named for the Republican former congressman who made international religious freedom one of his signature issues, also requires the White House, for the first time this year, to name “Entities of Particular Concern,” in addition to CPCs. USCIRF recommended that list include the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Taliban and al-Shabab.

That new requirement may be what’s holding up the State Department’s list: The White House has not yet delegated authority to the State Department to name Entities of Particular Concern, as it has with the CPCs. That’s what Ambassador Michael Kozak, senior adviser to the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said during a briefing on religious freedom streamed Wednesday on the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s Facebook page.

“People like to think this is due to some titanic bureaucratic battle going on, but it tends to be more mundane stuff,” Kozak said.

A State Department official told RNS in an email Friday that those designations would be released soon and reiterated that religious freedom is a priority to the Trump administration. The official did not comment on why the list was delayed.

Mark said there has not been much reaction to the missed deadline, as few Americans, even those concerned about religious freedom, are aware of the new law aiming to get the CPC list released faster.

“I suspect it’s also balanced by the fact that the administration has been doing good things (on the issue). There is some leeway and benefit of the doubt being given,” said Mark, who was appointed to the commission by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

But, the chairman added, “I think if we get to the end of 2017 and this hasn’t been done, I think people will be disappointed and frustrated and will begin to worry if there’s something problematic going on in the background.”

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.


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  • Effective in the recent past, Christian parents can have their children taken from them in Ontario, if they don’t endorse the delusion of transsexualism in children. While that may make many of you quite happy, when will it be your turn, when you are not following political correctness?

  • Have your Christians atoned for all the children kidnapped from First Nations families? Are they still dying from criminal neglect…lack of adequate medical care?

  • Yes, another atrocity of Canada. Sad, isn’t it Navy?
    The lack of respect for children in this world, and yet, we expect them to follow us and help us through our old age – financially and physically.
    No wonder this generation is so incredibly selfish and self-centred, thinking they are entitled.

  • It’s sad the religious entities responsible for these atrocities there and here are yet to be held accountable. Early proof to generations of children that all lives do not matter…and still don’t to this day.

  • I know this scripture will probably make you frown and look the other way, but I’m going to submit it anyway.
    Sometimes Christ gets involved earlier, sometimes later. But there is always the knowledge of:
    Mark 9:42 – ESV “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
    And having been on the recipient side of chastisement for other issues – several times, it does not feel good. I don’t want to think what it will be like upon meeting Him for those He doesn’t deal with here.

  • Whether it makes some frown or not, do not hesitate to quote the Holy Scriptures. Many of us believe them to be the only guide for the human race today, and, badly needed. I consider the Holy Bible an owners manual for God’s creation.

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) predicted the end of the world, IN WRITING, numerous times. Not once did they come true. They truly are known for their ‘False Predictions’ the world over.

    JWs are taught that they alone are TRUE Christians and that all other people not JW will soon be destroyed. This is no exaggeration.

    JWs will allow their own children TO DIE rather than accept a life saving blood transfusion even in severe medical emergencies. It has already happened THOUSANDS of times!

    Just like this mother died unnecessarily!

    Two recently in Canada!

    Or this teenager that also DIED:

    This pregnant JW and her baby died.

    JW’s NEEDLESSLY die for this sorry blood policy today.

    From the same organization that has an entire 100 + year history of similar bad and embarrasing policies.

    As a 15 year active JW (and an elder) here is my own story:

    JWs used to forbid Vaccinations and Organ Transplants (calling a life saving transplant “Cannibalism”) for a combined 33 years.

    This JW elder refused a kidney transplant and DIED only to have JWs say transplants are now OK 2 years later.

    JWs enforce extreme shunning for any JW that decides to leave their religion or who commits a sin without showing enough repentance in front of the elders.

    I have literally seen parents cut off all ties with their children solely because the kid did not want to remain a JW but went in another direction.

    Even the ex-JWs who leave the religion on their own, who are 100 percent truthful, sincere, love God, pay taxes, help others and more are still SHUNNED by all current JWs and marked as godless, proud, sinning apostates. The Awake magazine recently called them “mentally diseased”.

    And MANY contemplate suicide because the penalties of losing everything are simply TOO MUCH TO TAKE.

    But an honest question is: Why do so many JWs leave after being one time followers?

    As I eventually found out, the JW religion did say, IN WRITING, that the end would come in 1914 and then again in 1925. Was Jehovah directing all that? 1914 and 1925 came and went! They were proven false predictions. Period.

    They also said the end very likely would happen in 1975 and even commended (in the watchtower) witnesses for selling their houses and pioneering because of it.

    But 1975 came and went!

    They also said (for many decades) that the end would come before the generation born in 1914 passed away. In fact up until 1995 it was written inside each Awake magazine cover. Only they then had to change that meaning as well (including the Awake masthead) because that generation CAME AND WENT TOO.

    I was an active JW (and elder) for 15 years before leaving because of the blood and fractions policy 10 yrs ago. Today I’m shunned by all JWs simply because I left the religion.

    Most JWs simply accept everything the Watchtower teaches and says as “food from God”. Just like I did.

    Most believe God has chosen the Watchtower Society as his “channel”, which provides food from God Himself to their religion and ONLY their religion.

    But an honest look at the facts of the JW religion shows God has not chosen the WT for anything!

    Take a LOOK:


    Pages and pages of mistakes, embarrassments, false predictions, medical disasters, weird science, doctrinal failures and more for over 100 years now!

    Obviously ‘GOD’ would not get things wrong like this. Obviously ‘GOD’ did not provide bad food like that for their entire history.

    But most JWs have no idea about these things. They’re told to stay away from anything critical of their religion.

    For example: Was God’s spirit with JWs when they said Organ Transplants were a “conscience matter” in 1961?


    Was God”s spirit with WT when they THEN SAID Organ Transplants are same as “Cannibalism” in 1967 and forbid them?

    OR, was God’s spirit with the WT when they THEN SAID Organ Transplants are NOT the same as cannibalism in 1980 and now allow them?

    Was God behind all those changes each time? Did ((GOD)) get all those things wrong each time? How many JWs like that elder above DIED by refusing kidney transplants, only later on to be told they’re OK to have now?

    Which is why some end up taking their lives due to losing their family or feel compelled to speak out about it, like me right here and now.

    And now because I walked away JWs are demanded to shun you for life (including your very own family).

    Examine this religion and ask as many questions as you can!


  • The law allows courts to take into account a child’s gender identity when making custodial placements. It does not entail child protective authorities just coming into Christian homes and taking children away.

  • no Arb. Sorry I was so short with you.
    The current prime minister is anti-Christian.
    The current premiere of Ontario is anti-Christian.
    There is no such thing as “gender identity”, but to support satan, rather than Christ, both will do all they can to cause as much harm and confusion they can.
    I don’t know if one needs to live in the province to really explain this. We are dealing with principalities and powers in high places, and in high places in government at this time.
    I would not be surprised to see Canada fall soon, as Christ has taught: Isaiah 60:12
    English Standard Version
    For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste.
    I suppose it can get worse, but Canada cannot possibly get more evil than they are these days, Arb
    Isaiah 26:10 – New International Version
    But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the LORD.

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses have been right about some things and wrong about many other things. None of these justify the persecution they are receiving by the Russian government.

  • Trump did say that religious freedom is a priority for his administration. IN THIS COUNTRY! I’ve met a few people from other countries over the years, including Russia and that’s their #1 complaint—they wish we’d stop meddling in the internal affairs of their country! One woman I met in a class two years ago asked me if Americans felt hurt because our government spends more time worrying about what’s going on in their country and with what their president is doing than worrying about American citizens. I told her “we’re used to it, but it is very embarrassing.” She told me that most Russians like Americans and know it’s not coming from us but from our government. However, there are some people that live in small towns that are kind of isolated and they’ve never been out of Russia—they feel insulted—and angry.

    She told me something funny that she thought when she first got to America. She said she was surprised to see that our news is propaganda just like theirs at home (pretty much everything we’re told about Russia is false). She said they don’t get the truth about America either. We’re their “”boogie man”, just like Russia is ours!

    You know, if you want to know how people
    from other countries see us—don’t ask the U.N. ask “regular folks” . You’ll get quite an education!

    We need to stop meddling in the internal affairs and trying to change the societal beliefs and laws of other countries. If not, then we can’t complain when other countries meddle in our affairst This is a very bad habit our government has had for far too long and other countries are insulted by it and rightly so. We can’t get our own house in order. We are not qualified claim the moral high ground when it comes to others and tell others how to live. That’s why other countries will let Vladimir Putin act as their intermediary when trying to negotiate peace agreements. He can bring people to the same table who ordinarily couldn’t be in the same room together without killing each other! They won’t do that with us because there’s just too many strings attached! We also need to re-think sanctions foreign policy. That’s our answer to every problem with other countries! Every country that’s been slapped with our sanctions resents us—big time! That was the whole purpose behind forming BRICS and the desire to dump the dollar as the reserve currency and use something else. China would like it to be the Yuan!

  • Soros-funded NGO’s are also banned in Russia, China, Macedonia and Hungary. It’s time for us to follow suit! Hopefully, I our lifetime Soros will become a man without a country! The world’s getting sick of him!

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