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Newsletter for December 2010
Clinton critical of religious freedom in Europe
WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the state of religious freedom in Europe, as Washington highlighted policies and attitudes toward Muslim veils and Islam as a whole.
"Several European countries have placed harsh restrictions on religious expression," Clinton said, without elaborating as she unveiled the State Department's report on international religious freedom for the last year.
Her assistant secretary for human rights, Michael Posner, cited France's ban on wearing the niqab and other face coverings in public places and a Swiss motion passed last year that bans building new minarets.
Both measures have been criticized as intolerant moves stigmatizing Europe's growing Muslim population.
Posner acknowledged "growing sensitivity and tension in Europe" over Islam. "What we are urging our European friends to do is to take every measure to try to alleviate that tension," he added.
The different attitudes toward Muslims in Europe and the United States are the source of frequent tensions and misunderstandings between both sides of the Atlantic.
"We have gone to court in the United States to enforce the right of Muslim women and girls to wear a burqa, and on the streets, in schools, et cetera," said Posner.
"That's our position. It's a position we articulate when we talk to our European friends."
France's law banning veils - passed last month - was considered an especially controversial move in a country with Europe's biggest Muslim population, estimated at nearly six million. The Netherlands is expected to follow suit.
Clinton defined religious freedom as the ability for people to freely practice their faith, raise their children within those traditions, publish religious texts without censorship and to be able to either change religion or practice none.
She noted strong US opposition to any legislation condemning religious libel because of freedom of expression concerns.
The State Department's annual report - covering a period from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010 - found that respect for religious freedom deteriorated in Afghanistan and Iran while China and Indonesia earned mixed scorecards.
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