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Religious Freedom Under Threat


Sister Diana Momeka, a Roman Catholic nun driven out of a convent in Mosul, Iraq, testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee during a hearing on IS persecution of religious minorities, on Capitol Hill May 13, 2015.

There is a rising tide of religious persecution emerging worldwide and it disproportionately threatens religious minority groups.

There is a rising tide of religious persecution emerging worldwide and it disproportionately threatens religious minority groups. This threat touches Christians in the Middle East, Yazidis in Iraq, Baha’is in Iran, Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh, Muslims in India, or Sunni Muslims in Shia areas or vice versa.

“The threat,” said Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia Knox Thames, “is clear and present.”

Terrorists and non-state actors --such as ISIL, the Nusra Front, and al Qaida -– are some of the worst persecutors of religious minorities. But individual attackers have also perpetrated acts of violence against religious minorities. And unfortunately in far too many places governments continue to limit the exercise of religious freedoms.

Protecting and promoting the universal right to freedom of religion is central to American foreign policy. “Not only is it the right thing to do,” said Special Advisor Knox, “it is the smart thing to do as it plays a major role in contributing to more stable, progressive, and dynamic societies.”

Wherever people face religious persecution the United States is at work finding ways to help. For example, the U.S. pressures government to enact reforms so that religious minorities are able to freely practice their faith. Militarily, through airstrikes, the U.S. is providing protection for minority religions to remain in their ancestral homeland.

The U.S. continues to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrians and Iraqis, including refugees and displaced populations and supports resettlement for those who cannot safely return home.

The U.S. is encouraging countries in the Middle East to support through education respect for human rights and religious freedom. Governments in the region are also being urged to take steps to protect religious minorities during holy days and religious gatherings.

The United States, said President Barack Obama, will continue to work with a “broad coalition against those who have subjected religious minorities to unspeakable violence and persecution. . . . All people deserve the fundamental dignity of practicing their faith free from fear, intimidation, and violence.”

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