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On Religious Freedom

Coptic Christians gather in Rome, to demand religious freedom and protection following a church attack in Egypt that killed 21 worshipers.

Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook put forth three approaches to expand religious freedom, a universal human right.

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook, in recent remarks at the office of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, said that "religious freedom is a universal human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and protected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." She said she will "work assiduously... to devise and implement strategies that will... address systemic challenges to religious freedom and religious intolerance around the world."

Ambassador Johnson Cook put forth three approaches to expand religious freedom. The first was combating discrimination through legal protections. "Governments need to develop robust legal protections to address acts of discrimination against individuals and bias-inspired violent crimes," Ambassador Johnson Cook said. "Each country should determine if it has laws on the books that allow it to prosecute individuals who discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring, access to public accommodation and other aspects of public life, or who commit violence on that basis. Each country should determine if it has a capable and dedicated band of investigators and prosecutors to enforce such laws."

The second is to condemn hateful ideology and to reach out to affected groups. "Legal safeguards are essential, but it is better to create a climate that seeks to prevent discrimination and violence before it happens, than to punish after the fact," Ambassador Johnson Cook said. "This requires the commitment and courage of political and societal leaders. For example, in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, former President [George] Bush and Congressional leaders from both parties visited mosques and engaged in other visible interactions with members of the Muslim community precisely to build solidarity with them and to counter efforts to blame all adherents of Islam for the actions of a violent extremist group."

The third is to defend the freedoms of religion, belief, and expression. "Leaders in government, politics, religion, business and the rest of society must stand ready... to vigorously defend the rights of individuals to practice their religion freely and exercise their freedom of expression," Ambassador Johnson Cook concluded. "Leaders who remain silent are contributing to the problem."