International Religious Freedom: A Human Right, A National Security Issue, A Foreign Policy Priority
As Americans, we draw strength from the fact that freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly are among first rights protected in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. And we are not alone in cherishing these rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that every person, in every corner of the globe, has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This includes the freedom of every person to change his or her religion or beliefs, and -- either alone or in community with others, publicly or privately -- to manifest his or her religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Yet far too many people, in far too many places around the world, still live without the protection of these fundamental freedoms. Yesterday, the Department of State released its annual report on the state of international religious freedom around the world, which documents that in nearly half of the world’s countries, governments either abuse religious minorities or fail to intervene in societal abuse. The report describes how, in many countries, individuals live under oppressive laws restricting their religious practice or attire, or in fear that they will be targeted by blasphemy, apostasy, and dissent laws. Repressive governments use these laws to curb their citizens’ religious freedom, and imprison them for their beliefs. This abuse concerns us not just because of what it means on a personal level for millions of individuals around the world, but also because religious freedom is a key feature of stable, secure and peaceful societies.