Egypt joined the short list of countries deemed the world's worst violators of religious freedom because it "engaged in and tolerated religious freedom violations before and after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11," said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its annual report, released April 28. The report said the government failed to protect Coptic Christians from attacks, like the bombing of a Coptic church on New Year's Eve that killed 23 and wounded almost 100. Since Mubarak stepped down earlier this year, the report said security forces have targeted Christian places of worship and Christian demonstrators. Egypt's designation as a "country of particular concern," the worst category for religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act, makes it one of 14 countries on the commission's list.
Syria and the UN
While Syria is brutally cracking down on pro-democracy protesters-killing over 500 and detaining hundreds more-the UN may give Syria a seat on the Human Rights Council. The United States and other allies could not convince the UN Security Council to issue even a press release condemning the government of President Bashar Assad. Following criticism from Republican members of Congress, the UN Development Program did postpone a $38 million aid package to Syria, saying it wants to ensure the new program "addresses the evolving development needs of the Syrian people." The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning the attacks and agreed to investigate abuses in Syria. But with Syria running unopposed for a seat on the council, alongside repressive countries like Saudi Arabia and China, substantive action is unlikely.
Indiana became the first state to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood after Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the legislation into law May 5. That move helps repair Daniels' standing with social conservatives after his widely condemned 2010 call for a "truce" on social issues. "The principle involved commands the support of an overwhelming majority of Hoosiers," Daniels said of the bill that prevents Planned Parenthood of Indiana from receiving the $3 million a year it would otherwise get in government funds. Planned Parenthood said it will immediately seek a federal court order to stop the measure. House Republicans in Congress passed a similar ban for the entire nation in February, but that effort died in the U.S. Senate. Other states that want to join Indiana include Kansas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Texas.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled April 29 that the Obama administration can continue funding embryonic stem-cell research, overturning a district judge's ruling that blocked it. Adult stem-cell researchers brought the legal challenge against the government's funding of embryonic stem-cell research, saying it diverted money from their research and violated the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which prevents federal money from being used for research that harms embryos. The appeals court ruled that the funding was legal because the amendment uses the present tense, banning research in which embryos "are" destroyed, not embryos that "were" destroyed, and concluded that the Obama administration was justified in funding research in which private fertility clinics had already destroyed the embryos. Lone dissenter Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson accused her two colleagues on the panel of "linguistic jujitsu" to justify the funding.
Security officials in Inner Mongolia detained at least 10 house church pastors for "suspicion of fraud" in what could be reprisals for their involvement with the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism last year, according to Texas-based ChinaAid. Chinese officials blocked over 200 house pastors from attending the 2010 conference in Cape Town, South Africa-the second-largest delegation scheduled at the conference where over 200 nations were represented. ChinaAid reports that Chinese officials resented that the conference leaders didn't invite members of the official government church. But a Lausanne agreement requires conference delegates with a commitment to evangelism-a practice forbidden in government-sponsored churches.
At the same time authorities escalated a crackdown against the Shouwang house church, detaining dozens of members attempting to hold Sunday worship outdoors (see "Counting the cost," May 7, 2011). Church leaders say they organized the outdoor meetings after Chinese officials blocked access to rental space and a building the congregation purchased over a year ago. The church's pastors remain under informal house arrest after the first outdoor meeting on April 10.
Prime Minster Stephen Harper has held together a minority government since 2006. But the Canadian Conservative Party leader scored a landslide victory in May 2 elections, winning Canada's first center-right majority since 1988. Conservatives came away with 167 seats of 308. The leftist New Democratic Party came in second with 102 seats, while the more moderate center-left Liberal Party won 34.