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  Is America undermining religious freedom abroad?  


By: Moorthy Muthuswamy PhD
April 06, 2005
iews expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.


(The views expressed here are author’s own. The writer is a nuclear physicist based in America. He is also a director of Indian American Intellectuals Forum, a New York-based non-profit organization. His contact address:    


I recently came across the news that the United States State Department (USSD) officials posted abroad are actively advocating on behalf of proselytizing groups (in India, for example) – on the grounds of advancing religious freedom. 

Specifically, these officials have urged local and central governments to allow its citizens the freedom to choose (a faith) by removing any or all of anti-conversion laws. 

My preliminary investigation reveals that in all likelihood the USSD efforts are honest and well-meaning. However, it appears that the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has given incomplete and misguided set of instructions to USSD. This has led to what appears to be American undermining of religious freedom abroad -- as opposed to promoting one. 

Why are USCIRF guidelines incomplete and misguiding? 

The guidelines issued by USCIRF are inadequate and incomplete on two areas: 

  • The USSD officials do not appear to have carried out background checks on proselytizing religious organizations on whose behalf they have advocated

For instance, in India, Muslim and Christian organizations routinely discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring. It is widely observed that percentage of people of Muslim/Christian background employed in institutions controlled by them is several times more than their population percentage in many regions of India – clearly implying religious discrimination (given the fact that the majority Hindus constituting around 80% of the population are skilled/educated).  

It is notable that the United States under the Title VII of the civil rights act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. 

It doesn't appear that USSD officials checked to see whether proselytizing Muslim or Christian organizations on whose behalf they lobbied discriminated on the basis of religion in employment. I believe there is a law that bars the State Department from associating itself with any groups abroad that employ local practices that violate American constitution. I am not a lawyer, and it is for USSD lawyers to find out whether any American law was violated (inadvertently, perhaps). 

·         While nudging local governments abroad to ensure religious freedom, the USSD officials do NOT appear to have advised local governments the dire need to enact and enforce laws that prohibit religious discrimination (like in America) 

It appears that USSD officials just did the former but not the later. Freedom to convert in the absence of prohibition of religious discrimination is a license to conduct religious decimation by a proselytizing faith that has the most resources. In fact, this would grossly undermine religious freedom. This is among the reasons America enacted the 1964 civil rights act. 

Unfortunately, many Christian organizations in India, supported by evangelical groups based in America have used these unethical means (which would have been in violation of laws here in America) to convert almost entire regions to Christianity. In many institutions they control, they hired Christians in discriminatory ways for jobs that are state funded --- such as teachers in some schools or colleges. This led to unfair wealth transfer to Christians and marginalizing of non-Christians. The poor non-Christians had very few alternatives but to convert -- exactly the kind of a situation the American Civil Right Act of 1964 works to avoid. 

In developing nations such as India where governing and law enforcement are dismal, enactment of laws to prohibit discrimination alone is simply not enough -- as well-connected and resource rich missionaries are known to intimidate local law enforcement to look the other way as they indulge in discriminatory practices. 

Guidelines USCIRF could issue 

USCIRF needs to revisit and perhaps, issue revised guidelines to USSD along these lines: 

  • The United States State Department officials abroad cease to advocate on behalf of any religious organization that practices religious or any form of discrimination. The onus is on these officials to do the verification.
  • To ensure religious freedom, in its lobbying efforts abroad, the United States State Department gives EQUAL emphasis to enactment and ENFORCEMENT of laws requiring non-discriminate hiring practices as it does in articulating the need for laws that ensure the freedom to choose (a faith).

Moorthy Muthuswamy PhD

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