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The U.S. State Department has released the 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom -- the world's most comprehensive survey of religious liberty. The report examines how governments in one-hundred ninety-eight countries and territories are protecting or failing to protect religious freedom. It shines a spotlight, said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on abuses by states and societies, and it draws attention to positive steps by many countries and organizations to promote freedom and interreligious harmony.
The right to profess, practice, and promote one's religious beliefs is not just an American right, said Secretary Clinton. It is a freedom guaranteed to all people in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Religious freedom inspires faith-based service, and it fosters tolerance and respect among different communities. Countries that respect religious freedom also tend to be more democratic and therefore, more stable, secure, and prosperous.
The United States has been strengthened by its long tradition of religious pluralism, said Secretary Clinton. But there are some who claim the best way to protect freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The United States rejects this approach.
"An individual's ability to practice his or her religion," said Secretary Clinton, "has no bearing on others' freedom of speech. The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions. These should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse."
"It is our hope," said Secretary Clinton, "that the International Religious Freedom Report will encourage existing religious freedom movements around the world and promote dialogue among governments and within societies on how best to accommodate religious communities and protect each individual's right to believe or not believe."