Promotion of religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy, and has been since the United States was founded over two centuries ago. That is why the Department of State issues a yearly International Religious Freedom Report report, which details how, where and when the universal right to religious freedom was violated or protected in nearly 200 countries around the world.
According to the Report, last year was remarkable in that it had witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. “In almost every corner of the globe,” states the report, “millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs.”
Much of this was caused by violence, often sectarian in nature. Still, the fact remains that 75 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that do not respect religious freedom. Thus, people everywhere were subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse--violence perpetrated and sanctioned for simply exercising their faith, identifying with a certain religion, or for not believing in any deity at all.
Governments from all regions subjected religious groups and their members to repressive policies. They passed blasphemy laws; laws criminalizing religious activities, proselytizing and conversion; and issued onerous registration and discriminatory requirements for out-of-favor religious organizations. Some turned a blind eye to the persecution of minority religions and the harassment, even murder of their adherents. And some even exploited violence against minority religious communities for political gain.
“Around the world, repressive governments and extremist groups have been crystal clear about what they stand against. So we have to be equally clear about what we must stand for. We stand for greater freedom, greater tolerance, greater respect for rights of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience,” said Secretary of State John Kerry.
“With this report, I emphasize we are not arrogantly telling people what to believe. We’re not telling people how they have to live every day. We’re asking for the universal value of tolerance, of the ability of people to have a respect for their own individuality and their own choices.
“We are asserting a universal principle for tolerance.”