August 31, 2010
12:44 PM

CONTACT: Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Tel: +1-212-216-1832

US: All Officials Should Uphold Freedom of Religion

Proposed Muslim Centers and Mosques Should Not Be Blocked by Bias

NEW YORK - August 31 - Decisions by state and local officials in several US states to uphold the building of mosques and Muslim community centers despite protests is an important affirmation of the right to freedom of religion enshrined in international human rights law as well as the US Constitution, Human Rights Watch said today. Such projects are going forward in at least five states.

“New York City and several other local governments have shown real leadership on this issue that should be adopted broadly,” said Alison Parker, US program director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments at all levels need to respect the right to freedom of religion.”

The right to freedom of religion is protected under the US Constitution and also under international treaties to which the United States is a party. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the US ratified in 1992, requires all government entities at the national and local level to uphold its provisions. The treaty states that everyone has the right to religious beliefs, and the freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest those beliefs in worship, observance, practice, and teaching.

Proposals for new construction or expansion of mosques and Muslim community centers in California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, and Wisconsin have all undergone government land use reviews. Most have already been approved, with the exception of a proposed mosque in Chicago, Illinois, which was denied on grounds that a tax-exempt house of worship on a commercial site would deny the city tax revenue. The US government has begun investigating alleged acts of arson on August 29, 2010, at the construction site of a mosque expansion project in Tennessee.

International law, while protecting the right to freedom of religion, also protects the rights to freedom of peaceful expression and protest.

“It is important for government officials to come to the defense of individuals whose efforts to practice their faith come under attack,” Parker said. “Acts of hatred and intolerance directed against Muslims in the United States show the need for a more concerted effort by government officials to address religious intolerance in their communities.”


Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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