Promoting religious freedom
For the US, the whys, hows and trade-offs in promoting religious freedom around the world are complicated.
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Chalk it up to the Pilgrims, or perhaps James Madison -- after all, he established religion as the first freedom in America's Bill of Rights. Since then religious liberty has been an American institution.
But it wasn't until 1998 that Congress commanded the US to promote religious freedom around the globe. And in a world where religious intolerance and abuse are on the rise, the secular-minded State Department is conflicted over this mission of freeing the faithful and punishing the persecutors.
This past June, President Obama delivered his address to the Muslim world from Cairo, and it was no accident he emphasized the principle of religious freedom:
"The richness of religious diversity must be upheld. Whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon, or the Copts in Egypt. And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shiite have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq. Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together."
Religious persecution is on the rise around the globe -- from Russia, India and China to swathes of sub-Saharan Africa.
On "America Abroad," Tom Farr discussed the whys, hows and trade-offs in promoting international religious freedom. Far is senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, and former director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.
"It's not that American diplomats don't support justice and human rights -- they do," said Far. "But they don't always see how the promotion of human rights, and in particular religious freedom, accords with their jobs. Their job is to promote American interests around the world."
Far doesn't believe America's efforts to promote religious freedom are necessarily valued by other countries, but the efforts have reduced religious persecution in certain parts of the world.
"Vietnam is perhaps the best example of this. We do see some progress against persecution in Vietnam; we don't see the Vietnamese culture really saying, 'you know, this is important to us.'"
Critics have charged that US policy on religious freedom has been promoted in the US by evangelical Christians, and is nothing but a stalking horse for Christian missionaries, especially in Africa and Asia.
Far thinks that while this perception hurts America's religious freedom policy, Christianity is a religion that is missionary in nature, and it's difficult for the US to dodge this criticism.
This story is from a one segment in a five-part program from "America Abroad." Listen to other segments and/or full program.
Hosted by veteran public radio journalists Ray Suarez and Deborah Amos, "America Abroad" documentaries explore the critical international issues of our time.