In its annual Religious Freedom Report to the U.S. Congress, the Department of State noted three strong trends in 2014. First, the most egregious and violent cases of persecution based on religious intolerance were perpetrated by violent extremist groups, who seem to be bent on eliminating any religious practice that differs from their narrow and violent ideologies.
Second, some governments failed or were unable to protect their populations from abuse by such violent groups. And finally, some governments restricted religious practice or speech through the use of discriminatory laws as well as arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, even execution.
Around the world, a number of violent extremist organizations sought to murder or enslave any group or individual not conforming to their narrow interpretation of religious precepts. This included, among others, Daesh, al-Qaida, al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.
The damage done by such groups was exacerbated by the failure of some governments to act quickly enough, or at all, to protect the victims. Some governments claimed to be the protector of religious minorities, but failed or were unable to stop religiously-motivated extremist attacks.
Others failed to prevent, stop, investigate, prosecute, or punish religiously-motivated violence, creating a culture of impunity.
Worse still, a number of governments passed and enforced laws that punish religious minorities or discriminated against certain religious groups. Laws against blasphemy and apostasy were used to persecute and exact grossly excessive punishments, up to and including death, in the name of protecting majority religions from “insult.”
Still other governments persecuted and punished practitioners of certain religions under the guise of combating extremism and terrorism, or forced religious groups to officially register and abide by a very narrow set of regulatory laws.
“Religious bigotry is present to a degree in every continent and every country, and sadly, even including our own. It may be expressed through anti-Semitism or prejudice against Muslims; through the persecution of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others; or it may come in the guise of attacks against religion itself,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in his introduction to the Religious Freedom Report.
“By issuing this report, we hope to give governments an added incentive to honor the rights and the dignity of their citizens.”