Shortly after Perkins testified Wednesday before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, Ibrahim and her family – two young children and her American husband – were allowed to leave the U.S. Embassy in Sudan, where they took refuge on June 27.
They arrived in Rome on Thursday, their exit from Sudan reportedly negotiated by the Italian government and the Vatican -- not the United States. Later on Thursday, Meriam was blessed by Pope Francis.
In his testimony to Congress, Perkins said Ibrahim has shown more courage than the Obama administration throughout her ordeal:
“We are here because of the courage of a 27-year-old mother -- a 27-year-old mother, if you’ll just imagine the situation for a moment, in a prison on Khartoum [Sudan], which the U.N. says has an infant mortality rate of one child dying per day in that prison. At her side, at eight months pregnant, is a 21-month-old boy. And she is told that if she will denounce her faith in Jesus Christ, there’s the door, you can be a free person. But yet she refused to denounce her faith because she had the courage to stare death in the face.”
“What has America done?” Perkins challenged. “Where is the courage in America?”
Meriam was arrested on February 17 after her brother told police she left Islam to marry Daniel Wani, who is a Christian and an American citizen. Under Islamic law in Sudan, apostasy is a capital crime, and on May 15, she was convicted and sentenced to death.
She was imprisoned with her 21-month-old son, and she gave birth to a daughter while still in shackles.
But Meriam insisted all along that she was raised a Christian, and she refused to renounce her faith.
Facing international pressure and condemnation, the Sudanese government freed Ibrahim on June 23, but she was detained again the next day at the airport in Khartoum for alleged document fraud, preventing her from leaving the country.
Perkins criticized the Obama administration for being “practically mute” as Ibrahim was allowed to sit in prison awaiting death simply for being a Christian.
“While other governments have called attention to Meriam’s situation, including the European parliament passing a resolution and the British government’s prime minister speaking out publicly, the U.S. government has been practically mute,” Perkins said.
“The U.S. government’s disinterest in the plight of an American and his family is simply indefensible,” he added, accusing the administration of “ignoring the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which states that ‘it shall be the policy of the United States to condemn violations of religious freedom and to promote and assist other governments in the promotion of the fundamental right to freedom of religion.’
“The United States has clearly failed to condemn this violation and to speak out clearly and with conviction and courage on behalf of Meriam,” Perkins said.
He added that the Obama administration’s silence over international religious persecution goes hand-in-hand with a “reinterpretation” of religious freedom in the United States.
“A warning should be sounded across America that an indifference to religious persecution abroad can only lead to greater religious intolerance here at home,” Perkins warned.
“It is difficult to look at these facts and not understand them in light of the current administration’s unilateral reinterpretation of religious freedom domestically.
“This administration believes religious beliefs should be quarantined to private spaces and excluded from the public space. This truncated view of religious freedom domestically more accurately described as the freedom of worship, is matched by the administration’s failure to address the growing threats to religious freedom internationally,” Perkins added.
While the Obama administration has condemned other discriminatory acts by governments abroad, it has often turned a blind eye to violations of religious freedom, Perkins said, even as the Obama administration has actively urged other governments around the world to acknowledge rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people.
“The State Department has been pursuing its values and its goals, which have not included religious liberty,” Perkins said.
At the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) also criticized the administration for its silence, saying the lack of an immediate response to Ibrahim’s situation “seems wrong.”
“When a woman of faith is neglected at least for several months, and I would say mistreated, as well as her children and her husband, recently they’re doing things we can all be proud of, but at first, why did it take an outcry by U.S. Congress, members of the U.S. Senate, religious freedom NGOs and others to bring a focus upon this?” Smith questioned. “It seems wrong to me that it takes that kind of pressure just to do the right thing.”