The State Department recently released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2018. Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the International Religious Freedom Report details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and territories and describes U.S. actions and policies in support of religious freedom worldwide.
A wide range of U.S. government agencies and offices use the reports for such efforts as shaping policy and conducting diplomacy. The Secretary of State also uses the reports to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom in order to designate “countries of particular concern.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback discussed the report at a special briefing.
“This mission is not just a Trump administration priority–it’s a deeply personal one,” said Sec. Pompeo. “For many years, I was a Sunday school teacher and a deacon at my church.”
“And that might sound unusual to a lot of folks inside the Beltway,” Pompeo added. “But I am one of millions of Americans, and billions of people across the world, who live in the knowledge of a higher power. I often humbly reflect on how God’s providence has guided me to this office, to defend this cause. I think about how, as an American, I’ve been blessed to enjoy the unfettered exercise of religious freedom, our first liberty here in the United States.”
Pompeo also noted that for the first time in 13 years, Uzbekistan is no longer designated as a Country of Particular Concern. But other countries continue to “run roughshod over religious freedom,” said Pompeo:
In Iran, the regime’s crackdown on the Baha’is, Christians, and others continues to shock the conscience.
In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses were absurdly and abhorrently branded as terrorists, as authorities confiscated their property and then threatened their families.
In Burma, Rohingya Muslims continue to face violence at the hands of the military. Hundreds of thousands have fled or been forced to live in overcrowded refugee camps.
And in China, the government’s intense persecution of many faiths – Falun Gong practitioners, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists among them – is the norm.
The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding. The party demands that it alone be called God.
Ambassador Brownback also highlighted how religious freedom is being “encroached upon in many areas of the world”:
For example, Iran has one of the worst records on religious freedom in the world and continues to show a blatant disregard for protecting individuals’ religious freedom. Countless members of Iranian religious minorities, including Baha’is, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Sunni and Sufi Muslims, face discrimination, harassment, and unjust imprisonment because of their beliefs. Their religious books are banned. They are denied access to education. Their cemeteries are desecrated. Blasphemy and proselytization of Muslims is punishable by death. Last year, the Iranian regime violently cracked down on the peaceful protest of Gonabadi Sufi dervishes in what Human Rights Watch called “one of the largest crackdowns against a religious minority in Iran in a decade.” To Iran we say we are watching and we will stand up for all those whose right to religious freedom is infringed upon.
Reports on each of the countries can be found here.
Image source: U.S. State Department