This week the State Department submitted to Congress its 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom as required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
As in previous years, the report outlines religious abuse, persecution and governmental restrictions on religious expression around the world. It picks out areas of particular concern to the United States, as well as areas that government sees as “improvement” from previous years. What is new is a summary of examples of cooperation between faiths that the State Department holds up as both examples for others to follow and as tangible signs of progress in bringing peace around the world. The report highlights both international examples of interfaith cooperation and initiatives within a given country.
In her statement to Congress, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said:
Every year, the staff of our office of International Religious Freedom works with our embassies overseas and experts here in Washington to produce the world’s most comprehensive survey of religious freedom. This report examines how governments in 198 countries and territories are protecting or failing to protect religious freedom. It shines a spotlight on abuses by states and societies, and it draws attention to positive steps by many countries and organizations to promote freedom and interreligious harmony.
The President has emphasized that faith should bring us together, and this year’s report has a special focus on efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance. We commend, for example, the Philippines leadership in the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace at the United Nations. We commend Jordan’s role in initiating the common word dialogue and many other international and domestic initiatives. The United States is also expanding programs that work to bridge the divide between religious groups. These important efforts build on the shared values and common concerns of faith communities to sow the seeds of lasting peace.
I obviously believe that our country has been strengthened by its long tradition of religious pluralism. From the largest denominations to the very smallest congregations, American religious bodies and faith-based organizations have helped to create a more just and compassionate society. Now, some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion. I strongly disagree. The United States will always seek to counter negative stereotypes of individuals based on their religion and will stand against discrimination and persecution.
H/T Religion Clause