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Monday, March 7, 2011

H.Res. 141 Condemns Blasphemy Laws

The recent assassinations of two prominent Pakistani officials has not escaped the notice of Congress. One of my Google Alerts informed me of the existence of a House Resolution recently submitted by Rep. Trent Franks

    The resolution is not limited to the murders, it also covers recent abuses of Pakistan's blasphemy law and the OIC's campaign to impose similar laws internationally through U.N. resolutions.

    As soon as I read this resolution, I visited http://www.congress.org/  and sent an email to my Representative, urging him to sign onto the resolution and vote for it at every opportunity.  At the same time, I sent emails to my Senators urging them to initiate and vote for a parallel resolution in the Senate. 

     I have highlighted what I consider to be the most important provisions of the resolution.  Please read it, and if you agree with me, email your Representative & Senators urging them to vote for this resolution.

    Art is long and time is fleeting. In past years, similar resolutions have been bottled up in committee, long after they could have had any possible good effect. It is expected that the UNHRC will pass another in their series of defamation resolutions this month.  We need to apply sufficient pressure to get this resolution passed before that happens. 

112th CONGRESS  1st SessionH. RES. 141Expressing condolences for the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer  and Pakistan Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, and calling    for a Taseer-Bhatti Resolution in the United Nations Human Rights     Council honoring their courage in defense of core principles of  Pakistan's democracy, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human              Rights, particularly the freedom of religion._______________________________________________________________________                    IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES                             March 3, 2011Mr. Franks of Arizona (for himself, Mr. Cleaver, Mr. Shuler, Mr. Duncan of South Carolina, Mr. Pitts, Mr. Daniel E. Lungren of California, Mr.      Akin, Mr. Lamborn, and Mr. McGovern) submitted the following    resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs_______________________________________________________________________                               RESOLUTION Expressing condolences for the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer  and Pakistan Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, and calling    for a Taseer-Bhatti Resolution in the United Nations Human Rights     Council honoring their courage in defense of core principles of  Pakistan's democracy, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human              Rights, particularly the freedom of religion.Whereas two respected Pakistani officials--Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and         Pakistan Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti--were both murdered         for their advocacy on behalf of religious freedom for people of all         faiths throughout Pakistan on January 4, 2011, and March 1, 2011,         respectively;Whereas both Taseer and Bhatti were actively opposed to the death sentence         handed down to Asia Bibi in November 2010 for insulting Islam and called         for amendments to the blasphemy laws;Whereas blasphemy laws under section 295(c) of the Pakistan Penal Code carry the         criminal penalties of life imprisonment and the death penalty and have         led to increasing acts of harassment and violence against Pakistani         citizens, thousands of whom have had cases filed against them often on         the basis of false accusations and with little recourse or justice;Whereas according to the United States Commission on International Religious         Freedom, ``Blasphemy laws have been used against members of religious         minorities and dissenters within the majority Muslim community, and         frequently result in imprisonment on account of religion or belief and/        or vigilante violence.'';Whereas more than 30 people have been killed by lynch mobs after being accused         of blasphemy in Pakistan since the law was adopted in 1979 and         perpetrators are seldom brought to justice;Whereas Bhatti decried recent attacks by extremist groups on religious         minorities saying they allowed intolerance and violence to perpetuate         itself;Whereas only days before he was murdered Taseer warned on Twitter: ``I was under         huge pressure 2 cow down b4 rightist pressure on blasphemy, Refused.         Even if I'm the last man standing.'';Whereas the United Nations has repeatedly endorsed blasphemy laws through annual         ``defamation of religions'' or ``vilification of religions'' resolutions         that call for member states to take measures to prevent criticism of         religion;Whereas Pakistan has been the main sponsor of resolutions through the         Organization of Islamic Conference at the United Nations since 1999         which attempt to provide an internationally recognized legal         justification for their existing blasphemy laws;Whereas according to the Department of State's 2010 International Religious         Freedom Report on Pakistan, discriminatory legislation and the         Government's failure or delay in addressing religious hostility by         societal actors fostered religious intolerance, acts of violence, and         intimidation against religious minorities;Whereas specific laws that discriminated against religious minorities included         the anti-Ahmadi provisions of the penal code and the blasphemy laws         which provided the death penalty for defiling Islam or its prophets;Whereas according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, ``Blasphemy laws         empower states against their citizens, protect ideas rather than         individuals, and engender violence by condemning peaceful speech. While         proponents of the `defamation of religions' resolution and blasphemy         laws say they are needed to defend the honor of vulnerable religious         believers, in reality they only achieve more violence by creating a         culture of impunity where the state officially sides with extremists.'';         andWhereas recalling that Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of the Republic, in an         historic speech before the constituent assembly in 1947 urged citizens         to worship as they choose and stated, ``You may belong to any religion         or caste or creed-that has nothing to do with the business of the         State.'': Now, therefore, be it    Resolved, That the House of Representatives--            (1) calls on the Secretary of State and the United States         Permanent Representative to the United Nations to introduce a         ``Taseer-Bhatti Resolution'' in the United Nations Human Rights         Council advocating the repeal of blasphemy laws and condemning         their adverse effects on freedom of religion and thought and to         continue to work to defeat passage of the annual ``defamation''         resolutions introduced by the Organization of Islamic         Conference; and            (2) calls on the President to initiate a dialogue with the         Government of Pakistan to address the blasphemy laws, including         engaging in a bilateral review of--                    (A) the compatibility of all blasphemy legislation                 with the universally recognized freedom of religion                 with the intent to repeal or amend such incompatible                 legislation;                    (B) the actions against those who make claims of                 blasphemy that have incited violence;                    (C) how the Government of Pakistan protects                 individuals like Taseer and Bhatti and can establish an                 early warning mechanism to protect all citizens from                 calls to violence; and                    (D) the burden of proof used to allow citizens to                 file claims of blasphemy against other citizens and                 whether such claims need to meet a certain threshold of                 evidence before being filed, education provided the                 general public on the rights of religious minorities in                 order to create a climate of religious tolerance.