Defend religious freedom by defunding religious persecution


The United States has long been, and remains today, a place where religious freedom is protected.

Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all Americans, and we must remain vigilant in defense of this cherished right.  The fight to guard our religious freedom has many foot soldiers in the halls of Congress, and I consider myself one of them.

But in my years leading the fight for religious freedom, I have encountered far too many others in Congress who are unwilling to confront outrageous examples of religious oppression abroad if the nation receives financial support from the U.S.  Instead of taking a stand, the response from Congress has often been, “It’s complicated.”

It’s not.

Once Congress has deemed it acceptable to compromise away religious liberty so it can protect some supposed policy priority that involves sending your resources overseas — arms sales, for example —can we really trust it to stand for religious freedom at home when the moment requires it?

In Pakistan, blasphemy laws have long been used not only to restrict free religious practice, but to punish minority faiths, shut down political opponents, or to settle workplace or trivial arguments.  Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, was confronted by a hostile neighbor after she drank from a shared water source.  The neighbor accused Asia Bibi of blasphemy as part of the resulting argument, and she was arrested and sentenced to death by hanging. 

When the regional governor proposed reforms to the blasphemy law, he was assassinated by a member of his security team.  When another government minister — the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet — called for reforming the blasphemy law, he was also murdered. 

Pakistan’s government continued to uphold Asia Bibi’s death sentence despite international condemnation.  At the same time, Pakistan was receiving significant aid from the United States, and we could have conditioned any future foreign assistance on the repeal of this oppressive blasphemy law. 

In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I proposed exactly that in response to the Asia Bibi case.  Twice I offered an amendment that would prohibit foreign assistance to any country, including Pakistan, that imposed death penalties based on anti-blasphemy or anti-apostasy laws.  The committee had two chances to stand for religious liberty, yet it rejected my amendment each time. 

Along the way, I also introduced a bipartisan resolution calling on Pakistan to release Asia Bibi and reform its laws, and I advocated for the U.S. to grant her asylum, including speaking to President Trump about her directly.

Ultimately, the international effort to raise awareness about Asia Bibi, combined with the pressure applied on Pakistan, led to her eventual release and escape from Pakistan.

Last month, I introduced a bill to protect religious freedom and deny U.S. foreign assistance to countries implementing these anti-blasphemy laws (S. 4685), in part as a response to news on the case of Sawan Masih, a Pakistani Catholic who was sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy.

According to published reports, the blasphemy allegations were brought by a single witness.  Thankfully, the case against Mr. Masih has now been dropped due to lack of evidence, though the many years he spent fighting for his life cannot be regained. 

The repeated blasphemy charges brought against Pakistani Christians show that reliance on these laws is a gift to extremists.  They are a tool to wage terror against Christians, to run them from society, to steal their property, and to ultimately extinguish them.

I will continue to fight to make sure your tax dollars do not go to countries that enable these acts of oppression, and it is time for the rest of Congress to stop making compromises and join me.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is from Bowling Green represents Kentucky in Congress.


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