On October 27th, we observe International Religious Freedom day and reaffirm a basic tenet of human rights: Freedom of Religion.
The idea of Freedom of Religion is enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
But it takes far more than words on paper to make religious freedom a reality for all peoples of the world. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, an American think tank organization based in Washington, D.C., about one third of the countries in the world severely restrict their citizens' freedom of religion. Nearly 70 percent of the world's 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, and religious minorities are the most seriously affected.
Officially sanctioned discrimination against people of other beliefs can lead to violence and instability. As President Barack Obama said in Cairo in June 2009, "freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together."
In 1928, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: "I came to the conclusion long ago that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become Hindu. But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian."
In observing International Freedom of Religion Day, the United States reaffirms its support for religious tolerance, and freedom of religion for all people. The State Department will soon release its annual report on International Religious Freedom, which details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories. We believe that by shining a light on abuses and calling attention to progress, we can help those who are fighting for greater religious freedom.