“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,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her introduction to the International Religious Freedom Report.
But when we consider the global picture and ask whether religious freedom is expanding or shrinking, the answer is sobering, she said:
“More than a billion people live under governments that systematically suppress religious freedom. New technologies have given repressive governments additional tools for cracking down on religious expression. Members of faith communities that have long been under pressure report that the pressure is rising. Even some countries that are making progress on expanding political freedom are frozen in place when it comes to religious freedom. So when it comes to this human right, this key feature of stable, secure, peaceful societies, the world is sliding backwards.”
Universal human rights are not granted to us by any government. Rather, it is the responsibility of government to protect them… People can think what they want, but governments have to act in favor of protecting the rights of all. The world should and must hold governments to a different standard than individuals.
Religious freedom is both an essential element of human dignity and of secure, thriving societies, said Secretary Clinton:
“It’s been statistically linked with economic development and democratic stability. And it creates a climate in which people from different religions can move beyond distrust and work together to solve their shared problems.
“I’ve also seen how the opposite operates. The absence of religious freedom can create a climate of fear and suspicion that weakens social cohesion and alienates citizens from their leaders. And that, of course, can make it more difficult to achieve national progress.”
“Religious freedom is not just about religion,” said Secretary Clinton. It’s not just about the right of Roman Catholics to organize a mass, or Muslims to hold a religious funeral, or Baha’is to meet in each others’ homes for prayer, or Jews to celebrate High Holy Days together – as important as those rituals are. Religious freedom is also about the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, and come together in fellowship without the state looking over their shoulder.”