By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service
WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials praised a United Nations council for a new statement on religious freedom that sidestepped a divisive debate sponsored by Islamic countries over the "defamation of religions."
The U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday (March 24) approved a resolution voicing concern on "emerging obstacles" to religious freedom and growing "religious intolerance, discrimination and violence."
The United States supported the resolution, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called a "significant step forward" in global efforts to combat "intolerance, discrimination and violence ... based upon religion or belief."
Annual U.N. resolutions sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference against the "defamation of religions" have steadily lost support in recent years.
The issue gained greater scrutiny in Pakistan, which prohibits blasphemy against Islam, after two government officials who opposed the law were assassinated by Muslim radicals.
The independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has helped marshal opposition to the blasphemy resolutions in the U.N., said Thursday's vote should prompt Pakistan to rescind its blasphemy law.
"The resolution properly focuses on protecting individuals from discrimination or violence, instead of protecting religions from criticism," the commission said in a statement.