US: All Officials Should Uphold Freedom of Religion

2010_USA_Religion.jpg A supporter of the proposed lower Manhattan Muslim cultural center and mosque holds a sign in front of the proposed site in New York on August 19, 2010. © 2010 Reuters
Proposed Muslim Centers and Mosques Should Not Be Blocked by Bias

(New York) – Decisions by state and local officials in several US states to uphold the building of mosques and Muslim community centers despite protests is an important affirmation of the right to freedom of religion enshrined in international human rights law as well as the US Constitution, Human Rights Watch said today. Such projects are going forward in at least five states.

“New York City and several other local governments have shown real leadership on this issue that should be adopted broadly,” said Alison Parker, US program director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments at all levels need to respect the right to freedom of religion.”

The right to freedom of religion is protected under the US Constitution and also under international treaties to which the United States is a party. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the US ratified in 1992, requires all government entities at the national and local level to uphold its provisions. The treaty states that everyone has the right to religious beliefs, and the freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest those beliefs in worship, observance, practice, and teaching.

Proposals for new construction or expansion of mosques and Muslim community centers in California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, and Wisconsin have all undergone government land use reviews. Most have already been approved, with the exception of a proposed mosque in Chicago, Illinois, which was denied on grounds that a tax-exempt house of worship on a commercial site would deny the city tax revenue. The US government has begun investigating alleged acts of arson on August 29, 2010, at the construction site of a mosque expansion project in Tennessee.

International law, while protecting the right to freedom of religion, also protects the rights to freedom of peaceful expression and protest.

“It is important for government officials to come to the defense of individuals whose efforts to practice their faith come under attack,” Parker said. “Acts of hatred and intolerance directed against Muslims in the United States show the need for a more concerted effort by government officials to address religious intolerance in their communities.”

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