Trump urged to address India's religious repression

WASHINGTON (BP) -- United States senators urged President Trump to address India's deteriorating religious freedom conditions -- including its discrimination against foreign humanitarian organizations -- when he met with that country's prime minister Monday (June 26).

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and President Trump met at the White House June 26.
Screen capture from CNN.com
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and four of his colleagues called for the president to discuss the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a June 23 letter. Trump and Modi met at the White House the afternoon of June 26.

It is uncertain if Trump raised the issue with Modi. The White House press office did not respond in time for this article to a request from Baptist Press about whether the topic was discussed during the June 26 meeting. Neither Trump nor Modi commented on the matter during a joint news conference after their meeting.

In their letter, the senators pointed out India's continuing status as one of the world's more repressive countries for religious liberty despite being its largest democracy. They addressed specifically its use since 2011 of a law to prohibit funds from being transmitted into India by some foreign organizations.

The government blocked Compassion International -- a leading Christian charity -- from transferring money to help with the 145,000 children in the country it was serving. The organization was forced to pull out of India in March.

Compassion International "had helped feed and provide health care to children in India for nearly 50 years," Kennedy said in a written statement. "Now thousands of innocent children will be left without this critical support.

"Many of these organizations are simply trying to meet the basic needs of the citizens of India," he said. "Discriminating against foreign organizations that help the citizens of India is counterproductive, and it needs to change."

In their letter, the senators said other evangelical organizations, "such as the Southern Baptist Convention, have also faced discrimination of various kinds."

Joining Kennedy on the letter were Republican Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mike Crapo of Idaho and James Lankford of Oklahoma, as well as Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Blunt and Lankford are both members of Southern Baptist churches.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, expressed his gratitude for the leadership of Kennedy and the other senators in "calling attention to the dangerous trends on display in India."

"Religious liberty is imperiled not only at home but all around the world," Moore said in written comments for BP. "My prayer is the administration, and every corner of our government, will take every opportunity to uphold and defend religious liberty."

India has been listed as a Tier 2 country by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) since 2009. Tier 2 is for countries in which the government commits or tolerates violations that "are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the 'systematic, ongoing, and egregious'" standard for "countries of particular concern" (CPCs), according to USCIRF. The CPC designation is reserved for the world's worst violators of religious liberty.

In its latest annual report in April, USCIRF said "religious tolerance and religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate in India." Hindu nationalist groups and their supporters committed "numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence" against other religious groups in 2016, the commission reported.

Problems for foreign religious and humanitarian organizations increased six years ago, when India's Parliament amended the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act to allow the government to bar money from such groups that conduct "activities detrimental to the national interest." Since then, the government has used this language to target foreign organizations that serve India's people, the senators said in their letter.

The senators cited the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Amnesty International, the Ford Foundation and Greenpeace as other organizations that have been examined by India's government. More than 10,000 organizations have lost their licenses since Modi became prime minister in 2014, the senators said.

"We request that you use the United States' strong, longstanding relationship with India to encourage Prime Minister Modi to alleviate the discrimination against these organizations, particularly religious-based aid groups, and to take steps to advance religious liberty for all of India's citizens," the senators told Trump, whom they thanked for his commitment to religious freedom.

USCIRF -- which is made up of nine commissioners selected by the president and congressional leaders -- tracks the status of religious liberty worldwide and issues reports to Congress, the president and the State Department.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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