A newly released U.S. Department of State report praises Israel for its respect of religious freedom but also criticizes the Jewish state for its policies of restriction at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site in Jerusalem.
“While the government ensured limited access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to everyone regardless of religious beliefs, only Muslims are allowed to pray at the site, although their access has been occasionally restricted due to security concerns,” the International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 says. “Police regulated traffic in and out of the compound and removed non-Muslim visitors if they appeared to be praying … Non-Muslim religious symbols are not allowed to be worn on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.”
Israeli police cite security concerns for allowing only Muslims to pray at the holy site. Non-Muslims attempting to pray there will be escorted out and in certain instances where Israeli officials believe there to be an increased threat of riots, Muslim men under the age of 45 are barred from prayer.
The State Department’s report begins with a general praise for Israel’s conduct as it relates to religious freedom.
“While there is no formal constitution, laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally respected religious freedom. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty protects religious freedom. The Basic Law describes the country as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ and references the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which promises religious freedom and full social and political equality, regardless of religious affiliation,” says the report.