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Religious Rights Are Human Rights

Nahal Zamani,
Human Rights Program
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September 30, 2009

Yesterday, Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program, presented a statement at the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation of Europe (OSCE) in Warsaw, Poland. The OSCE is an intergovernmental organization consisting of 56 “participating states,” including the United States, Canada, European countries, and Central Asia.

The HDIM is Europe’s largest human rights conference, and the most significant OSCE event addressing human rights and democracy in Europe, North America and Central Asia. For two weeks, more than 1,000 government representatives, human rights defenders, scholars, members of civil society and journalists examined the processes and extent to which OSCE member countries have implemented their commitments to human rights and democracy.

Jamil presented a written statement on “Charitable Giving and Religious Freedom in the U.S.” during yesterday’s session on fundamental freedoms, which focused on freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.

As you may know, the ACLU has recently documented the consequence of U.S. government actions on American Muslims’ exercise of their right to profess and practice their religion through charitable giving. The ACLU’s research shows that post-9/11 terrorism financing policies and practices are seriously undermining American Muslims’ protected constitutional liberties and violating their fundamental human rights to freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom from discrimination. President Obama just signaled his commitment to working with American Muslims to ensure they can fulfill zakat (zakat is one of the core “five pillars” of Islam and a religious obligation for all observant Muslims) and highlighted the importance of this issue in a recent statement to mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid-ul-Fitr, stating: “As I said in Cairo, my Administration is working to ensure that Muslims are able to fulfill their charitable obligations not just during Ramadan, but throughout the year.”

In his statement, Jamil noted:

Despite the often weak nature of its evidence, the Bush Administration publicly trumpeted its actions as successes and made inflammatory and unfounded or exaggerated allegations when it designated Muslim charities as terrorist, indicted them criminally, or raided them. These government actions have created a general climate in which law-abiding American Muslims fear making charitable donations in accordance with their religious beliefs.

While Obama’s recent statements signal a step forward towards upholding the religious freedom of Americans — as this is a change in policy from the Bush administration — the Obama administration now must act.

We call on the Obama administration to work with Congress to reform our terrorism financing laws and policies in order to bring these laws and policies into compliance with international standards, and meet our country’s human rights commitments to better protect and promote religious freedoms of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The ACLU is joined by other groups who stand ready to work with the administration to make this happen. Stand with the ACLU today and demand religious freedom for everyone in America.

Learn more about the issue at: /muslimcharities.

— By Jennifer Turner and Nahal Zamani

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