Letter to Secretary Albright on Religious Freedom, December 2, 1998

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

December 2, 1998

The Honorable Madeleine Albright
Secretary of State
Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Madame Secretary,

In the course of your conversations this week with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, His Excellency Nawaz Sharif, I would be most grateful if you would bring to his attention several areas of current or proposed Pakistani policy that deeply trouble not only the Catholic and other minority communities in his country but growing numbers of people in the United States as well.

All who are concerned for the universal application of human rights norms as encoded in the United Nations declaration issued fifty years ago this month, and specifically for the protection of religious rights and freedom, may be perplexed by certain steps the Prime Minister's government is taking.

Specifically, with regard to the notorious Blasphemy Law, while it is true that no higher courts have as yet sentenced Christians who were accused offenders to the death penalty provided for in Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, the fact is that this law has been used as cover by persons carrying out private vendettas. Although the law may be explained as a guarantee of due process and a safeguard from mob violence, some have been murdered before their cases were heard, some have lost their property, and none can ever expect to return to a normal life.

Second, the expressed intention of the Government of Pakistan to make the Sharia the supreme law of the land cannot fail to cause grave misgivings among all Pakistanis who are not Muslim, as well as among many Muslims devoted to the principles of democracy. While we recognize that this proposed institutionalizing of Muslim law is intended not to apply directly to non-Muslims, it will inevitably contribute to the further marginalization of the Christian and other minority communities of Pakistan.

Third, the Separate Electorate Law, imposed on all the minority communities, effectively banishes them from the mainstream of national life. No modern state aspiring to be considered democratic can tolerate an electoral system that expressly defines some people as first class and all others as something else.

Finally, an issue that very directly affects the Catholic Church especially in the Punjab, where some 80% of the country's Catholic population resides, is the contested matter of the return of the church schools nationalized under the previous government. The Prime Minister has often expressed his support for the de-nationalization of the church-related schools that had been taken over by the state, but the fact is that most of the schools have not been returned and that vast sums have been demanded of the Church to receive their former properties. The Punjab government in particular, which has already received a considerable amount of money from the Church for the return of some 39 schools, has yet to fulfill its agreement. It would help greatly if the Prime Minister as the leader of his party would urge the states to speed up the return of the schools and pledge to do all he can to prevent serious financial burdens being placed on the churches for the return of their schools.

Madame Secretary, these are matters that deeply concern not only the Catholic Church but also the human rights community in this country. I trust that you will do all in your power to communicate to the Prime Minister that these concerns are also those of our government as well.

With deep appreciation for your attention to these concerns, I remain

Sincerely yours,

Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
United States Catholic Conference