December 24, 2008

1536 RNS News

The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors

Congress OKs Tough Anti-trafficking Bill

BY TOM STRODE                                                                                                                         ©2008 Baptist Press

capCongress has approved legislation that supporters believe will strengthen both the domestic and international efforts to combat human trafficking.

Passage by the House of Representatives and Senate on the same day brought an end to a lengthy, contentious debate over competing pieces of legislation. Activists in the anti-trafficking movement strongly favored a measure approved overwhelmingly by the House last December over one proposed in the Senate. In the end, a new bill more closely resembling the House version passed without objection in either chamber.

President Bush is expected to sign the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, H.R. 7311, into law. The legislation, supporters say, will:

  • Significantly increase the ability of the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Office to thwart sexual and other forms of trafficking overseas.  
  • Strengthen prosecution efforts against trafficking in the U.S.
  • Increase punishment for traffickers.
  • Enhance protections for trafficking victims in this country.
  • Empower U.S. attempts to halt the use of children as soldiers in other countries.
  • Require the Justice Department to produce a model law for states to use in investigating and prosecuting trafficking.
  • Clarify that federal law cannot be interpreted to consider prostitution as an acceptable mode of employment.
  • Authorize a presidential award for exceptional efforts in the fight against trafficking.
  • A majority of those trafficked across international borders are victims of sexual slavery or exploitation, though trafficking also includes forced commercial and domestic labor, as well as coercive recruitment of children by military forces.

Congressional passage of the bill "is a tremendous victory for human rights," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "The trafficking of women and children for sexual purposes and in sexual bondage is a terrible, terrible human tragedy. This is a great step forward in addressing this tragedy successfully. It took a tremendous amount of work by a broad coalition to bring this bill to fruition." The ERLC is a part of the diverse coalition that promoted the legislation. Barrett Duke, the ERLC's vice president for public policy and research, said he is "extremely pleased" with the measure.

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Religious Abuse Continues in Iraq, Report Says

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                                 ©2008 Religion News Service

Iraq should be designated as a "country of particular concern" because its government tolerates the abuse of religious communities, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The federal commission said many Iraqi religious minorities, including Christians, Yazidis and Sabean Mandaeans have fled, threatening their faiths' existence within the country.

"The lack of effective government action to protect these communities from abuses has established Iraq among the most dangerous places on earth for religious minorities," said Felice D. Gaer, chair of the commission at a Washington news conference.

Only five of the nine commissioners agreed with the "country of particular concern" designation, the report noted. That designation is used when a government has engaged in "systemic" and "ongoing" religious freedom violations. But the report said all of the commissioners agreed that the Iraqi government needs to take more action to address the plight of religious minorities.

Commissioners encouraged President-elect Barack Obama's incoming administration to make prevention of abuse a high priority and to seek safety for all Iraqis and fair elections.

They also asked the U.S. government to appoint a special envoy for human rights in Iraq and Iraqi officials to establish police units for vulnerable minority communities. They also seek changes in Iraq's constitution, which currently gives Islam a preferred status, to strengthen human rights guarantees.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R, Va., co-chair of a congressional caucus addressing human rights, said that religious pluralism in Iraq is "rapidly diminishing." He said about 500,000 Christians, or 50 percent of the population of that faith in Iraq in 2003, have fled the country.

The U.S. State Department designated Iraq as a "country of particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act from 1999 to 2002. It dropped the designation in 2003 after the U.S. war in Iraq began and Saddam Hussein's government collapsed.

In May 2007, the commission placed Iraq on its watch list due to escalating sectarian violence and the conditions affecting religious minorities.

New Congress Reflects Overall
U.S. Religious Landscape

BY KEVIN ECKSTROM                                                                                                 ©2008 Religion News Service

The religious makeup of the incoming 111th Congress roughly matches the overall American religious landscape, with overrepresentation among Jews and Mormons, according to new analysis by the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Just over half (55 percent) of House and Senate members who will take office on January 6 are Protestants, compared to 51 percent of the U.S. population. The second-largest group, Catholics, make up 30 percent of lawmakers, compared to 24 percent of all Americans.

Among Protestants, Baptists lead in the House and Senate, at 12 percent, followed by Methodists (11 percent), Presbyterians (8 percent), Episcopalians (7 percent) and Lutherans (4.5 percent).

Like the nation as a whole, the proportion of mainline Protestant members in Congress has fallen in recent decades. Methodists, for example, made up nearly one in five lawmakers in 1961. Episcopalians and Presbyterians have seen similar drops, while Lutherans have remained relatively steady.

Catholics, meanwhile, have grown from 19 percent in 1961 -- the same year John F. Kennedy took office as the nation's first Catholic president -- to 30 percent today. Catholics make up a larger share of the Senate (37 percent) than the House (21 percent).

Jews make up 8.3 percent of the new Congress, compared to just 1.7 percent of the general population. Mormons, too, account for 2.6 percent of Congress but 1.7 percent of the general population.

The 111th Congress will see the return of two Muslims (Democrats Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana) and two Buddhists (Democrats Hank Johnson of Georgia and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii) who were all elected to the House during the 110th Congress.

The Pew analysis said no Hindu has ever been elected to Congress, although a Sikh, Rep. Dalip Singh Saund, represented California for three terms beginning in 1957. Only one member of Congress, Rep. Pete Stark, D-California, is a professing nonbeliever; five members did not specify a religious affiliation in data collected by Congressional Quarterly.