UNITED NATIONS REPORT ON
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE U.S.
Mr. Abdelfattah Amor is an Special Rapporteur, in the field of religious freedom and tolerance. His
appointment was created by a United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution
He functions independently, within the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva,
Switzerland. One of his tasks is to visit member states of
the U.N., assess their degree of religious freedom and tolerance, and write
reports on his findings. He has visited Australia, China, Germany, Greece, India,
Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan on previous trips.
From 1998-JAN-22 to FEB-6, he visited the U.S.,
visiting Washington, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and
both Phoenix and Black Mesa in Arizona. He visited with the State
Department, Department of Justice, Office of Non-Public Education, Immigration
and Naturalization Service, Equal Employment Opportunity Council and the U.S.
Supreme Court. A few meetings were held with State agencies, human rights committees,
hate crime committees, human rights and religious freedom non-government
organizations, and representatives of "most religions and beliefs."
He met with representatives of most religious groups with more than 200,000
members in the U.S., including "Native Americans,
Christians, Muslims, Jews,
Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah's
Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons,
Baha'is, Scientologists, and atheists."
He did not meet with at least two large religious groups: Santerians
and Neopagans. [Author's note: This
oversight is regrettable, because Neopagans who are open with their faith (particularly Wiccans)
are probably the most heavily oppressed group, per
capita, in the
He reported interference by international officials of the
U.N. -- the first time that he had experienced obstacles in any of his
Legal guarantees of religious freedom in the U.S.
He reported that the main texts guaranteeing religious freedom is the U.S.
||Article VI which prohibits religious tests for any office or public
||The 1st Amendment which guarantees the
free exercise of religion and prohibits the establishment of religion.
His report included an analysis of various federal and state legislation and
court decisions that:
||protected religious freedom,
||oppressed specific faith groups,
||acted to separate church and state.
Experience of minority faith groups
||Islam: Muslims in the U.S. consist
primarily of African-Americans who have organized the Black Muslim community,
and the "oriental" Muslim community established primarily
by immigrants from Bangladesh, India, Lebanon, the Middle East, Pakistan,
and Syria. Muslim representatives reported a satisfactory level of religious
freedom in the U.S. However, they also described a form of "islamophobia"
in the U.S., largely driven from a biased media. They feel that the U.S.
population has little knowledge of Islam. They reported "Acts of
vandalism against mosques and Muslims' private property, verbal and physical
attacks, discrimination in the field of employment, particularly as regards
respect for religious practices, and above all against women wearing
"Islamic" dress (the hijab), isolated acts of intolerance
by public employees, such as the teacher in South Carolina who called on
people to 'kill Muslims'."|
||Judaism: Jewish delegations report that
religious freedom and separation of church and state which are guaranteed by
the 1st Amendment have encouraged a
"thriving religious life within the Jewish community".
However, almost 80% of the 1,400 religion-motivated hate crimes tabulated by
the FBI were against Jews. They commented on the need for laws similar to the
federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was recently declared
unconstitutional. They also support laws guaranteeing religious freedom in
the workplace. |
||Native American Spirituality: Mr. Abdelfattah Amor
reported that Natives "are without any doubt the community facing the
most problematical situation, one inherited from a past of denial of their
religious identity, in particular through a policy of assimilation, which
most Native Americans insist on calling genocide (physical liquidation,
religious conversion, attempts to destroy their traditional way of life,
laying waste of land, etc.)." Native Americans who follow
traditional faiths frequently have their religious practices severely
restricted within prisons. Natives also experience unique problems,
||their faith requires them to access specific locations of the country.
This is often denied by landowners, including the federal government. In
other areas, these sacred sites have been destroyed by economic
||Eagle feathers play an important role in some tribes. This conflicts
with federal legislation protecting that species.
||They are often refused the return of the remains of their ancestors.
Mr. Abdelfattah Amor reported that "In general, it appears that the
situation of minority communities in the field of religion and belief is
satisfactory." This includes diverse faith groups which have
suffered from intolerance and discrimination in the past: e.g. Atheism,
Buddhism, Hinduism, Scientology
and such minority denominations within Christianity
as the Assemblies of God, Jehovah's Witnesses, the
Mormons and the Seventh Day
However, there are some problems areas:
||Workplace discrimination. e.g.
||Dismissals and lack of respect for religious practices --
particularly with Seventh Day Adventists;
||Problems with religious attire -- particularly among Sikhs.
||Obtaining permits for religious buildings (particularly for Buddhists,
Hare Krishna, Hindus, Jehovah's Witnesses, and
||"Isolated attacks on religious buildings."|
Conclusions and recommendations:
Mr. Abdelfattah Amor found that:
||Overall, the country is "free and open to all religions and
beliefs...the actual situation in the United States in the field of
tolerance and non-discrimination is in general satisfactory."|
||The clauses of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
"constitute fundamental guarantees for the protection of religion
and belief." However, the freedom and establishment clauses
are fundamentally in conflict. Various interpretations by the courts have
||Laws concerning religious practice in the workplace need
||Ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child
would be beneficial. (It has been ratified by every country in the world
that has a national government, except for the U.S.)|
||Education should play a greater role in teaching tolerance and
non-discrimination in the field of religion and belief.|
||Some problem areas are:
||Islam: There exists "an islamophobia reflecting both racial and religious intolerance."
The main cause is a heavily biased media. The solution is education, both
in schools and in local inter-religious councils.
||Native Americans: Past Government programs of Native assimilation
into mainline society continue to have adverse effects. Although there
have been some new laws passed to protect Native spirituality, they have
serious shortcomings. Rights of Native prisoners need to be strengthened.
||Media: Campaigns are needed to train the media in religious
tolerance and knowledge.
||Inter-religious dialog: This exists in some areas of the country,
but needs to become more widespread.
Abdelfattah Amor, "CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, Addendum,
Visit to the United States of America," United Nations document E/CN.4/1999/58/Add.1, 1998-DEC-9.
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