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Analysis: Does religious freedom report need more ‘teeth’?

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Take CPC-designated Saudi Arabia, he said, where non-Muslim religious practice is still officially forbidden. The U.S. has pressed Saudi officials on the topic, and in recent years, the Saudis have said that they are not going out of their way to root out non-Muslim observances, though they still prosecute them when they see them.

And, in Myanmar, a long-standing member of the CPC club, the religious freedom situation has been fluid and is something we want our government to keep track of, Marshall said. So "the list is a good thing."

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Jamsheed K. Choksy, a professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University and an incoming USCIRF fellow, said the problem is larger than the report or whether the CPCs are included.

"What needs to happen," he said, "is that the government of the United States needs to take these reports and make them central aspects of American policy and foreign relations."

Retired Ambassador Randolph Bell, who runs the First Freedom Center, a Virginia-based religious freedom watchdog group, took a similar view. The lack or inclusion of new CPCs isn’t as crucial as whether U.S. foreign policy is going to act on the information gathered by its own staff, and make religious freedom an organizing principle for U.S. bilateral and multilateral relations.

But in any case, Bell said, the U.S. needs to keep churning these reports out to keep attention focused on the cause of the repressed faithful.

"If they’re not there," Bell said of the reports, "then wouldn’t people who are focused entirely on U.S. trade and economics, or people focused on some other aspect of global affairs, say climate change, just go about their business?"

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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