Secretary of State John Kerry says religious freedom 'is a birthright of every human being'

Published: Wednesday, May 22 2013 1:30 p.m. MDT

“(The commission) congratulates the State Department … for its admirable work reporting on the many ways religious freedom is violated around the world,” chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett said via press release. “Given that religious freedom conditions are deteriorating in many countries, the State Department’s extensive documentation of the nature and extent of these violations is especially important.”

Despite offering high praise for the State Department, the Commission of International Religious Freedom still thinks Kerry should be more aggressive in identifying countries of particular concern. In fact, the Commission of International Religious Freedom issued its own findings on April 30.

In that report, the commission singled out seven additional countries it wants the State Department to tag as countries of particular concern — Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

Moral matter or practical point?

As executive director of American Religious Freedom at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Brian W. Walsh is primarily concerned with preserving and promoting domestic religious liberties. But Walsh also believes international religious freedom is an important policy pursuit for America — and to substantiate such a sentiment he relies on his inner sense of morality.

“We’ve long been the world leader in protecting religious freedom,” Walsh said. “Because of that, we have moral authority. Just as the West took on apartheid in South Africa, it’s important for those who have a tradition and practice of protecting religious freedom to make sure that the oppressed around the world are being remembered and that such injustice does not go overlooked.”

Shah, though, sees a much more practical reason for promoting international religious liberty. He said freedom of religion is foundational for the type of long-term stability contemporary societies need to flourish.

“Ambassador Cook is absolutely right: Religious freedom is not just an abstract human right,” Shah said. “It is a recipe for societal success. When societies respect religious freedom, they do better. They succeed.

“ ... In societies where there is religious repression, you tend to have extremely unstable societies in which there is at least massive distrust, and often open violence and conflict. Religious freedom prevents that from happening; it creates a society in which it says to everybody, ‘You have a secure place here.’”

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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