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US defense of global religious freedom wanes under Obama, panel says

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In addition, commission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration's evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation.

“Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say.

Critics say Obama's recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

White House officials reject suggestions that Obama is playing down religious freedom in his foreign-policy aims. They note, as does the USCIRF report, that he spoke about “freedom of religion” in both his Cairo speech and his Ankara speech in 2009.

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