The U.S. State Department recently released its annual International Religious Freedom report and focused attention on terrorism as a growing threat in this realm. In announcing the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry identified a “new phenomenon of non-state actors who, unlike the last century and the violence that we saw and persecution that we saw that emanated from states, are now the principal persecutors and preventers of religious tolerance and practice.” He highlighted terrorist groups like ISIS (or “Daesh”), al-Qaida, al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram as among the most dangerous. “And all have been guilty of vicious acts of unprovoked violence,” he said.
David Saperstein, who 10 months ago became Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, similarly stated, “[T]he single greatest challenge to religious freedom worldwide, or certainly the single greatest emerging challenge… is the abhorrent acts of terror committed by those who falsely claim the mantle of religion to justify their wanton destruction.” Ambassador Saperstein also warned of the dangers of blasphemy laws, societal actions, and ongoing problems among governments, including those that “have used the guise of confronting terrorism or extremism to broadly repress religious groups for nonviolent religious activities, or by imposing broad restrictions on religious life.” He specifically called out the governments of Burma, China, Russia, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.
Notably, Secretary Kerry emphasized that religious freedom is “way beyond mere tolerance” and “is deeply connected to our DNA as Americans…. It’s a concept that is based on respect, and respect, in turn, demands legal equality.”
The full report is available here.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: October 23, 2015