Weekly Policy Report
by Edwina Rogers
I met with HE Elena Poptodorova, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Bulgaria to the U.S., to discuss the plight of the Bangladesh Freethought Bloggers. Bulgaria has the highest approval rate for asylum seekers in Europe at over 90 percent. They have been losing population, with a current population of 7.11 million, down from a population of 7.16 million in 2014. It is estimated that Bulgaria’s population density is 66 people per square kilometer. The country’s capital and largest city is Sofia, and is the 14th largest city in the European Union. According to their constitution, the official religion is Orthodox Christianity but Bulgaria is also considered a secular state.
Bulgaria is in a state of demographic crisis. It has had negative population growth since the early 1990s, when the economic collapse caused a long-lasting emigration wave. Some 937,000 to 1,200,000 people—mostly young adults—left the country by 2005. The total fertility rate (TFR) was estimated in 2013 at 1.43 children born/woman, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1. A third of all households consist of only one person and 75.5 percent of families do not have children under the age of 16. Consequently, population growth and birth rates are among the lowest in the world  while death rates are among the highest. The daily birth rate is 892, but the daily death rate is 1,537. Only 18.9% of the population is over 65, the age expectancy is 70.62 years for males and 77.55 years for females.
Atheist bloggers in Bangladesh are under severe life threats if they remain in their homeland. In 2015 four bloggers were hacked to death in just six months by machete-wielding assailants. Police investigations have been slow at best, to date five suspects have been arrested. If we could safely transport the threatened bloggers to Bulgaria then the chances are good they would receive asylum.
Our letter this week is to the UN asking for assistance with asylum for the bloggers. It is on our website.
Museum of The Bible Descends On DC
In DC, separation of church and state is not just a principle of governance, it is an architectural and geographic rule as well. Now, though, the Good Book is coming to town in a big way. The Museum of the Bible – backed by the evangelical owners of the craft store Hobby Lobby, who famously took their objections to contraception and Obamacare to the Supreme Court — is set to open in 2017, just off the Mall. The proximity of the museum to the world-class Smithsonian and the Capitol has raised eyebrows. Academics and curators worry about the origins of the collection. To many in the scholarly community, the museum seems like an oversize piece of evangelical claptrap. Some academics and curators also worry about the origins of its collection — the more than 40,000 biblical artifacts were amassed in a remarkably short time by Hobby Lobby President Steve Green. But the museum is trying to pitch itself as deserving of its spot. Sarah Posner concurred, writing in Talking Points Memo: “The museum will be a living, breathing testament to how American evangelicalism can at once claim it is under siege from secularists, the LGBT rights movement, or feminism — yet also boast of acquiring a prime private perch, strategically located at the nation’s epicenter of law and politics.”
Who Greeted The Pope At The White House?
The White House’s guest list for a welcoming event for the pope has created tension with the Vatican. What do transgender activist, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and an activist nun who leads a group criticized by the Vatican all have in common? The pope.
The Holy See worries that any photos of the pope with these guests at the White House welcoming ceremony yesterday could be interpreted as an endorsement of their activities. The Holy See is the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, the episcopal see of the Bishop of Rome—the Pope. It is the central point of reference for the church everywhere and the focal point of communion due to its prominence. Stay tuned – thank you White House protocol staff.
During my visit I will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles. … With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about the guest list last week – and if Obama was trying to make a political statement. Earnest, who did not confirm who was on the list, emphasized that up to 15,000 people will be invited to welcome the pope to Washington. “I would warn you against drawing a lot of conclusions about one or two or maybe even three people who may be on the guest list, because there will be 15,000 other people there too,” he said.