Concerns about freedom of religion in Afghan constitution
A council of regional and tribal leaders have given approval to a new Afghan constitution with provisions intact that international human-rights activists say fail to protect religious freedom, reports the Associated Baptist Press.
A copy of the final text reportedly retains several sections on religious issues that raised concerns among international religious-freedom experts when an earlier draft was released in November, prior to the convening of the loya jirga in Kabul.
Although delegates did reportedly remove specific references to sharia, or Islamic law, the document nonetheless is said to contain sections that give privilege to Islam.
It sets up a government that mirrors the United States' system in structure - with a strong executive branch, a bicameral legislature and an independent judiciary - but also declares Afghanistan an "Islamic Republic."
The constitution names "the sacred religion of Islam" as the official religion of the republic, according to highlights from the final document reported by the Agence France-Presse news service.
The constitution follows that clause by saying, "Followers of other religions are free to perform their religious ceremonies in accordance with the provisions of the law."
But the proposal doesn't contain any provision separating mosque from state or explicitly ensuring equal rights among religious groups, as does the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Afghan document also insists that no law in Afghanistan "can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the values of this constitution."
That's not enough protection for religious minorities and non-conformist Muslims, according to some members of a U.S. panel monitoring religious freedom around the globe.
The White House released a statement on Jan. 4 in which President Bush praised the new constitution. "This document lays the foundation for democratic institutions and provides a framework for national elections in 2004," Bush said.
Noting that American troops freed Afghanistan of the oppressive and theocratic Taliban regime in 2002, he added, "This new constitution marks a historic step forward."