Religious Freedom a Core Element of U.S. Foreign Policy
Washington — Promoting religious freedom is a core element of U.S. diplomacy, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at the November 17 release of the 2010 Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom.
She also cited President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo that “signaled a significant increase in our engagement with Muslim-majority countries and with religious communities around the world.”
This year’s report assesses the state of religious freedom in 198 nations. The purpose of the report, Clinton said, is not to pass judgment, but to provide useful information in the effort to secure the basic human right to believe, or not to believe, and practice, or not practice, the religion of one’s personal choice.
Some countries are designated “countries of particular concern” because of their especially severe violations of religious freedom during the reporting period. These severe violations include torture, degrading treatment and detention based on religious belief. The countries of particular concern are Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
Clinton expressed special dismay regarding al-Qaida’s calls in the last year for further violence against religious minorities in the Middle East. Sufi, Shia and Ahmadiyya holy sites in Pakistan have been attacked, she said, as was a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad just a few weeks ago. In addition, she said: “We received reports from China of government harassment of Tibetan Buddhists, house church Christians and Uighur Muslims. And several European countries have placed harsh restrictions on religious expression.”
Other countries have been recognized for improvements. For example, the report states that the Lao government signed a written agreement with the Institute for Global Engagement to provide training on religious freedom to government officials and religious leaders.
Lebanon is finalizing the restoration of the Maghen Abraham synagogue in Beirut that had been destroyed by shelling during the Lebanese civil war, according to the report.
The Indonesian government, the report says, hosted the first Indonesia-U.S. Interfaith Dialogue, bringing together religious leaders, scholars, students and interfaith activists from both countries and the region.
This year’s report, compared to previous years, provides much greater detail about what the U.S. government is doing to engage faith-based groups and address the issues that affect them, Clinton said.
“Our embassies will continue to support interfaith dialogue and work with religious groups across a full range of issues. And we will continue to speak out against the curtailing of religious liberty wherever and whenever it occurs,” Clinton said.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)