News flash from the State Department about Saudi Arabia: “The [Saudi] Government does not provide legal protection for freedom of religion, and such protection does not exist in practice.” Wow, who knew?!? More particularly, the latest International Religious Freedom Report says this about Saudi Arabia:

Freedom of religion does not exist. It is not recognized or protected under the country’s laws, and basic religious freedoms are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam. Citizens are denied the freedom to choose or change their religion, and noncitizens practice their beliefs under severe restrictions. Islam is the official religion, and all citizens must be Muslims. The Government limits the practice of all but the officially sanctioned version of Islam and prohibits the public practice of other religions. During the period covered by this report, the Government publicly restated its policy that non-Muslims are free to practice their religions at home and in private. While the Government does not always respect this right in practice, many non-Muslims engage in private worship without harassment. As custodian of Islam’s two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, the Government considers its legitimacy to rest largely on its interpretation and enforcement of Shari’a. Consequently, the Government has declared the Koran and the Sunna (tradition) of Muhammad to be the country’s Constitution. The Government follows the rigorously conservative and strict interpretation of the Salafi (often referred to as “Wahhabi”) school of the Sunni branch of Islam and discriminates against other branches of Islam. Neither the Government nor society in general accepts the concept of separation of religion and state.

Actually, that’s nothing new. The State Department has made similar claims in prior versions of the International Religious Freedom Report for years. The news flash is that Saudi Arabia is now listed as a “Country of Particular Concern” for “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” for the first time. Since nothing has changed in Saudi Arabia, I wonder what changed in the State Department.

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