Biden administration again declines to hold Nigeria and India accountable for religious rights abuses

Mubarak Bala

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is disappointed that the U.S. State Department has once again decided against designating Nigeria and India as “Countries of Particular Concern” for religious liberty violations. This is despite the quasi-official U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s recommendation to the contrary.

This same drama played out in 2022, and very little has changed since then. Nigerian officials are still allowing the criminalization of blasphemy, and the State Department itself condemned the recent horrific killing of more than 100 Christians in a part of the country experiencing heightened religious tensions. The commission identified religious liberty violations both perpetrated by Nigeria’s government and that the government has failed to stop.

One egregious example is Mubarak Bala, an atheist who has now been detained for nearly four years. FFRF has championed efforts to raise awareness of Bala’s plight, and he currently faces a 24-year prison sentence for allegedly criticizing the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook in 2020. The State Department is well aware of these problems, as it even awarded an International Religious Freedom Award to Kola Alapinni, a human rights attorney, for his efforts to challenge the constitutionality of Nigeria’s blasphemy laws.

Meanwhile, India is still controlled by the political arm of the RSS (or the National Volunteer Corps in the English translation), a Hindu nationalist organization founded in 1925 and partly inspired by Mussolini’s fascists. Put simply by the USCIRF, “Religious freedom conditions in India are taking a drastic turn downward.” Just this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a grand temple at the site of a destroyed mosque — a blatant insult of India’s minorities and a severe blow to the country’s constitutionally secular system.

As FFRF explained in some depth two years ago, it is not shocking that the State Department has decided to turn a blind eye toward Nigeria and India, since the United States has too much invested — in many senses of that word — in these two countries to ruffle feathers. India is seen as a crucial ally to counterbalance China, while Nigeria represents the biggest economy in Africa and is a major U.S. trade partner.

However, FFRF contends that giving allies a pass on basic human rights violations is unacceptable, and these counterfactual omissions could jeopardize the credibility of U.S. foreign policy.

“The United States was the first country to enshrine true religious liberty, in the form of a guaranteed secular government, in its Constitution,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We should be proud of that standard and be honest when our geopolitical allies are failing in that regard. Any less suggests that basic human rights are not a top-tier concern for us.”

FFRF applauds the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for its painstaking, detailed reports on threats to international religious freedom, and for its ongoing efforts to encourage the State Department to do the right thing regarding Nigeria and India. FFRF will continue to help hold the Biden administration accountable for this shortcoming until it is corrected.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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