"The protection of religious freedom is a fundamental concern of the United States going back to the earliest days of our republic," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the release of the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on Sept. 13th, 2011, "and it remains so today." That's why the State Department releases an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. This year's report covers 198 countries and territories from July to December 2010.
There are many governments around the world who deny their people the fundamental human rights to believe according to their own conscience – including the freedom to not believe or not follow the religion favored by their government - and to practice their religion freely.
In Iran, authorities continue to repress Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, Bahais, Sunnis, Ahmadis, and others who do not share the government’s religious views. In China, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, and "house church" Christians all suffer from government attempts to restrict their religious practice. In Eritrea last year, a 43-year-old evangelical Christian died in prison; he was reportedly tortured for 18 months and denied treatment for malaria because he refused to renounce his faith.
In the Middle East and North Africa, the transitions to democracy have inspired the world, but they have also exposed ethnic and religious minorities to new dangers. People have been killed by their own neighbors because of their ethnicity or their faith. In other places, governments stand by while sectarian violence, inflamed by religious animosities, tears communities apart.
Some countries have taken steps to improve religious freedom and promote religious tolerance. In Turkey for example, the government issued a decree in August authorizing the return of properties confiscated by the government seventy-five years ago to non-Muslim religious communities.
Religious freedom and tolerance play a crucial role in building stable societies. When governments respect religious freedom, when they work with civil society to promote mutual respect, or when they prosecute acts of violence against members of religious minorities, they can help create a climate of tolerance.
Religious tolerance is one of the essential elements of a sustainable democracy and of a peaceful society that respects the rights and dignity of each individual. That is good for stability, for American national security, and for global security.