The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has accused the Obama administration of being lax on protecting religious rights at a time when persecution is on the rise.
The bipartisan group made the analysis in its 11th annual report, which said that while "President Obama has emphasized religious freedom in major policy speeches abroad, the Administration to date has not demonstrated the intent to break from the practice of previous administrations," which the group says have largely ignored the issue.
The group made specific notice of a change in phraseology made by Obama and other White House officials in their speeches where they substituted religious freedom for the words "freedom of worship."
"Freedom of worship is only one aspect of religious freedom, and a purposeful change in language could signify a much narrower view of the right, ignoring for example, the components of religiously motivated expression and religious education," the USCIRF wrote. "This is not the message our nation should be sending to the world's religious freedom abusers."
The USCIRF also noted the Obama administration's failure to nominate an individual for the State Department's Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, which is the highest ranking U.S. official on religious freedom.
According to the report, while the White House has appointed envoys to combat anti-Semitism and for engaging the Muslim community, the Ambassador-at-Large is the key official for the coordinating and developing U.S. policy on religious issues.
Meanwhile, the USCIRF's recommendations for "countries of particular concern," or CPC's, that have been designated by the State Department as having severe restrictions on or violations against religious freedom include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
Additional recommendations from the group for CPC's included Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
Countries listed on the USCIRF's watch list included Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egytp, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.
The USCIRF placed particular emphasis on religious security in Nigeria, where as many as 12,000 Nigerians have been killed in sectarian violence since 1999.
The group also noted Saudi Arabia's dissemination of anti-Christian and anti-Jewish educational material, government persecution of religious minorities in Iran under blasphemy and apostasy laws, and state-sponsored religious oppression in Vietnam, Egypt, North Korea, and China.
A full text of the report can be viewed here.