At Family Research Council, we have consistently made the point that religious freedom must be protected at home and abroad. It is a human right, protected in the United States most prominently by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. Internationally, it is protected by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other instruments. While the language differs slightly, the right protected is the same. People are free to choose the faith they will have and live out that faith in their lives.
So we were pleased to see The Economist highlight the link between protecting religious freedom at home and abroad in a recent piece on the Ahmadiyya Muslims. Ahmadiyyas believe their founder was a prophet, and for this belief, are viewed as outcasts and non-Muslims by many others within Islam. They have come to the West in hope of peace, where they eagerly pledge allegiance to the civil governing authorities of those countries. The Ahmadiyyas seem to have developed a theology of separation of church and state (as Christians had to do hundreds of years ago) as we currently know it in Western countries—places where the Ahmadiyyas appear to appreciate the legal protections for all faiths. They certainly need it, being subject to legal discrimination, violence, and murder for their beliefs. Yet this no longer occurs only in their home countries:
“This year anti-Ahmadi hatred seemed to break out in Britain, with the murder in March of a popular Glasgow shop-keeper called Asad Shah. His family had moved to Britain in the 1990s in the hope that life for Ahmadis would be easier than in Pakistan. But Pakistan’s religious passions have clearly been felt in Britain; it emerged in April that literature urging the killing of Ahmadis was being circulated in at least one London mosque. The assassin, from the northern English city of Bradford, openly declared his intention of punishing his victim for “disrespecting” Islam, and in particular, for having wished his Christian neighbours a happy Easter.”
The Economist continues:
“The story suggests a wider point. Back in the 1990s, when American officaldom was first mandated by Congress to start making annual assessments of the state of religious liberty round the world, there was widespread confidence in Western capitals that liberal-democratic norms, including religious liberty, would steadily be established in those countries which still oppressed their citizens and curbed their freedom to believe and worship. That missionary confidence is now greatly diminished. But that makes it doubly important that Western governments use all their might at least to protect their own subjects from brutal assaults on freedom of thought. Families like that of Asad Shah, who look to Western democracies as a beacon, must not be disappointed. Or to put it another way, the Ahmadis should feel they are getting something in return for their loyalty to the flag.”
Indeed. This is all part of making sure that true religious freedom—not religious freedom curtailed by blasphemy laws, or religious freedom contained to one’s private life—is protected both in the West and around the world. The United States must do its part to protect this right at home, while revitalizing the role of religious freedom protection in foreign policy.