According to the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report, religiously motivated persecution continues to be perpetrated by governments and by violent extremist groups, such as Boko Haram and ISIL, also known as Da’esh, around the world.
The 2015 report, released last week, highlights in particular the worrisome prevalence of blasphemy and apostasy laws, which fully one quarter of the world’s countries have on the books. Governments used these laws to “tighten their regulatory grip on religious groups, particularly on minority religious groups and religions which are viewed as not traditional to that specific country.”
In his introduction to the report, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein noted that:
“The existence of these laws has been used by governments in too many cases to intimidate, repress religious minorities, and governments have too often failed to take appropriate steps to prevent societal violence sparked by accusations of blasphemy and apostasy.”
Ambassador Saperstein explains that even if accusations of blasphemy or apostasy turn out to be untrue, governments will often fail to act to hold the accusers accountable.
The purpose of this annual report is not to lecture, but to shine a light on these problems and find ways to resolve them. The report also serves as an objective and comprehensive resource for NGOs, civil society groups, media, and foreign governments.
“The protection and promotion of religious freedom remains a key foreign policy priority for the United States. As daunting as the many challenges are that we face across the globe, we will not be deterred in the work that we do,” said Ambassador Saperstein. “This report is at once vivid testimony for the many whose plight might otherwise receive scant attention and a document – a blueprint – of what must be addressed to bring us closer to the day when religious freedom will thrive for all.”
Ambassador Saperstein added that U.S. government officials, including at the highest level, speak out regularly against abuses and violations of religious freedom, and raise these concerns directly with governments that fail to protect religious freedom.