The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Annual Report, which describes the state of religious freedom in 199 countries and territories, notes that one of the common threads connecting repressive governments the world over, is the use of discriminatory laws and measures to deny their citizens their right to freedom of religion or belief.
In Iran, the government uses vague apostasy laws to persecute religious minorities and dissidents, including through the so-called charge of “waging war against God.” Conviction carries a death sentence.
Saudi Arabia does not recognize the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion in public, and prosecutes religious minorities under criminal law for apostasy, atheism, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law calls for a sentence of life imprisonment or death. In China, the government tortures, detains, and imprisons thousands for practicing their religious beliefs, while Russia uses anti-extremism laws to detain and fine members of minority religious groups and organizations.
But not all news is negative. As ISIS, an egregious offender when it comes to oppressing religious minorities, has been chased out of the territories it once held, people there can once again worship according to their beliefs.
U.S. engagement has also borne fruit.
In Vietnam religion is strictly regulated. And while a new law governing religion falls short of honoring Vietnam’s international human rights commitments, the law promises to streamline the application process for, and issuance of, official recognition--a necessity for free and open worship.
And in some parts of the world, religious tolerance is on the rise. In Marrakech, Morocco, Islamic scholars issued a declaration promoting equal citizenship for religious minorities. Tunisia’s government offered support for the annual pilgrimage to the Djerba island synagogue, while the United Arab Emirates and Oman allowed the construction of Christian churches, Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras.
“No one should have to live in fear, worship in secret, or face discrimination because of his or her beliefs,” said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Quoting President Donald Trump, Secretary Tillerson also said we look forward to a day when “people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience.”