Amid domestic litigation over religious liberty at home regarding the Obamacare contraception mandate, the Obama administration touted its defense of freedom to worship abroad.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, left, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, center, stand in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, during a meeting between President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santo. The Obama administration has been phasing out U.S. security aid to Colombia in favor of economic development assistance and promotion of human rights, particularly in areas formerly controlled by rebel forces. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice, speaking at Human Rights Annual Summit Wednesday in Washington also spoke about the administration's commitment to freedom of the press, even as administration officials fend off questions about subpoenaing reporter phone records and blocking access to White House photographers.
“We defend the freedom for all people to worship as they choose, and we champion open government and civil society, freedom of assembly and a free press,” Rice said.
She heralded the president's commitment to human rights.
“No one understands this profound responsibility more keenly than President Obama,” Rice said. “From his Nobel Prize acceptance speech to his remarks at the United Nations in September, he has been clear about the principles that guide us and to which we hold ourselves accountable, even as we navigate an increasingly complex world of competing and overlapping challenges. Make no mistake: advancing democracy and respect for human rights is central to our foreign policy. It’s what our history and our values demand, but it’s also profoundly in our interests.”
Several Catholic dioceses in the United States, private companies and non-profit groups are suing the Obama administration over the Obamacare mandate requiring requiring insurance to provide free coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case from two family-owned companies, the Oklahoma-based arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby and the Pennsylvania-based Conestoga Wood Specialties Store Corp., both of which argue that paying for employee-based coverage of these drug violates their religious freedom.
Rice mentioned abuses of freedom to worship in China, at a time when Vice President Joe Biden is visiting the country.
“When ethnic and religious minorities—such as Tibetans and Uighurs—are denied their fundamental freedoms, the trust that holds diverse societies together is undermined,” Rice said. “Such abuses diminish China’s potential from the inside.”
A White House news release to mark the Rice speech highlighted the administration's human rights record that referenced problems abroad that are certainly more severe than complaints in the United States regarding freedoms stated in the First Amendment freedoms.
The White House release states the State Department spends $10 million per year on foreign assistance programs to promote religious freedom by tackling discriminatory material in Middle Eastern school textbooks and trying increase understanding of religious minorities.
Further, the White House release states that “U.S. officials press foreign governments at all levels to advance religious freedom, including through advocacy on specific cases, such as the case of Saeed Abedini—an Iranian-American pastor imprisoned in Iran—and Rimsha Masih—a Christian child accused of blasphemy in Pakistan.”
It also touted an aggressive pushed for Internet freedom, stating there have been about $120 million in Internet freedom grants from the State Department since 2008.
“The United States helped to organize the Freedom Online Coalition, a cross-regional group of 21 governments that collaborate on Internet freedom,” the news release said. “The U.S. and the Freedom Online Coalition worked to pass, by unanimous consensus, a landmark 2012 resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council affirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”
Still, the Obama Justice Department has been criticized since May for labeling Fox News reporter James Rosen a “co-conspirator” in a leak investigation and for obtaining phone records from Associated Press journalists.
Just last month, the White House Correspondents’ Association and several news organizations issued a letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney about blocking news photographers from events, and increasing the number of official White House-approved photos for public consumption. The letter said, “To exclude the press from these functions is a major break from how previous administrations have worked with the press.”