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Religious Freedom

World leaders attended a religious tolerance conference sponsored by Saudi Arabia at the United Nations this week. Religious rights groups say there's a hidden agenda at work.



Saudi Arabia's King Abdallah sponsored an interfaith meeting at the U.N. this week, in hopes, he said, of building bridges between people of different faiths and cultures. Some say the idea of Saudi Arabia hosting a conference on religious tolerance is absurd, because it forbids the practice of any religion except Wahabbi Islam. Carl Moeller is president of the religious freedom group, Open Doors USA. "In Saudi Arabia itself there's absolutely no religious tolerance," he said. "It's the worst persecutor of Christians and other faiths of any country in the Muslim world." Click play for comments from Carl Moeller of Open Doors USA and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice. World leaders, including President Bush and Israeli President Shimon peres attended the event. In his address, Bush said freedom is crucial to fostering peace between faiths. "People who are free to express their opinions can challenge the ideologies of hate," he said. "They can defend their religious beliefs and speak out against those seeking to twist them to evil ends." But religious rights groups say the conference is hiding a grave threat to freedom of speech. King Abdallah has been building support for a UN resolution called combating the defamation of religions. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice says that despite its name, the resolution is really designed to give Islam special status. "The fact of the matter is that this defamation of religion has nothing to do with protecting religious freedom," he said. "What it does is isolate and protect Islam from criticism." Moeller says the resolution is more like a global gag law that would give muslim countries legal cover to punish those who question Islam. "You might remember the response of world nations that were particularly offended by the Danish cartoons, the riots in many Muslim countries because they considered those cartoons an offense to Islam," he began. "Well this resolution will institutionalize that perspective in many Muslim countries." And he says it can have a harmful effect on Christians. Simple Christian activities like praying worshipping and sharing one's belief in Jesus Christ with a neighbor can be interpreted as offensive and therefore restricted," he said. At the U.N., the interfaith meeting did break some new ground. When Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed the group, it was the first time that a Saudi Arabian official did not walk out when an Israeli spoke.


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