The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) – a bipartisan government entity established by Congress to report on the status of religious freedom in other countries – has expressed concerns about maintaining freedom of worship at holy sites in Jerusalem amid a streak of violence that has occurred there.
The commission urged on Thursday for the Israeli government “to continue to seek assurances for freedom of religious practice and worship pursuant to status quo agreements.
“Recent attacks at sites of religious significance in and around Jerusalem restrict religious freedom for people of many different faiths.”
Commission raises concerns over targeting of religious sites
“Recent attacks at sites of religious significance in and around Jerusalem restrict religious freedom for people of many different faiths.”USCIRF Commissioner Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
USCIRF said it had recorded an increase in the targeting of churches, mosques and synagogues, as well as religious sites, citing the Neve Ya’acov terrorist attack; an incident in which Israeli settlers shattered windows at the al-Sadeq and Bab al-Zaqiya mosques in Hebron; the desecration of 50 Christian graves on Mount Zion; and the vandalism of a statue of Jesus at the Church of the Flagellation.
USCIRF Commissioner Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum said that “recent attacks at sites of religious significance in and around Jerusalem restrict religious freedom for people of many different faiths. We hope that as Ramadan, Passover and Easter approach, all houses of worship will be respected.
“The US government must continue to urge officials in the region to hold accountable the perpetrators of criminal acts at religious sites, and work actively to counter influential political voices inciting religious prejudice and violence that negatively impacts religious practice and worship.”
Another commissioner, David Curry, described recent attacks targeting religious people and holy sites as “devastating,” saying, “they risk further escalating a situation in which political violence and terrorism preclude people from safely manifesting their religion or beliefs. We are especially concerned over safety amid the uptick of violence in Jerusalem and surrounding areas."
“The US government should stress that the existence of political conflict does not diminish the universal protections of Article 18 to freedom of religion or belief for people of all faiths and beliefs, and express this concern in bilateral discussions.”
USCIRF said in a 2019 report that “In protecting the rights of all persons to worship or assemble in connection with their religion and to establish and maintain places for these purposes, states must ensure that religious places, sites, shrines, and other symbols are fully respected and protected, including when vulnerable to desecration or destruction.”