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Religious freedom slipped in India, US Senators told

Religious freedom in India has slipped since last year’s General Elections in the country, US senators were told even as the administration insisted the issue was an important agenda on its foreign policy as reflected in the blunt speech by US President Barack Obama during his visit to New Delhi in January.

“(In) mentioned India after their elections, religious freedom has slipped in that country.”

“We need to be watching very closely what’s happening not just with Christians but all religious minorities there in that country,” Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Christian conservative group Family Research Council told a Senate sub-committee during a Congressional hearing on Wednesday.

“Under the International Religious Freedom Act, this has to be priority in our foreign policy.”

“Our training for our Foreign Service officers is to be a priority,” said Perkins.

Notably in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) classified Family Research Council as an anti-gay hate group, a designation which generated controversy.

“In your view, has the current administration shown more clarity on issues of religious freedom?” Senator Steve Danes asked Senator Perkins.

“In my conversations (with diplomats), this (religious freedom) has never been a topic that is brought up to them as a priority in our foreign policy; in fact, it’s been contrary.”

“So to answer your question, Senator, I would say no, they have not spoken with clarity. It has been not a priority that has been put forth by this country, this administration,” Perkins said in response.

“As a result, we see record levels of religious persecution.”

“And according to the experts that track this, it’s not about to crest, it’s continuing to rise and the foreseeable future does not look good,” he added.

Citing the speech by US President Barack Obama in Siri Fort in New Delhi this January, Rabbi David Nathan Saperstein, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom at the Department of States, argued that religious freedom is a key part of the Administration’s foreign policy.

“I think there is legitimacy to different narratives and another narrative would be this President in India dealing with religious freedom as bluntly as he’s done, at the National Prayer Breakfast has being so forceful, in terms of the imprimatur that the administrations has given me to empower me and the work that I’m doing, the fact of how open the entire State Department has been to this religious freedom agenda, as a crucial agenda,” he argued.

“Whether it is a change or just different things going on at the same time, I actually think that there is a legitimate narrative that says that this is an administration and a secretary of State and a president that cares deeply about this issue of religious freedom,” Saperstein said.

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