Religious Freedom and National Security

On Palm Sunday 2017, ISIS terrorists bombed two large Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, killing 47 and injuring scores more. Even this community, already embattled by ongoing instability and constant persecution, was thrown into unprecedented disarray by such a direct attack on their places of worship. As had come to be expected, the world's attention was focused very briefly on this tragedy, before once again turning elsewhere.

The public's inconsistent focus on religious freedom has received no help from most of those within the foreign policy community. At least in recent years, our foreign policy elites have primarily viewed this issue as the parochial interest of humanitarian-minded pastors and religious freedom-focused human rights activists. Concerns were addressed when possible, yet the government handled problems on a one-off basis, usually to solve the annual flare-up over some imprisoned pastor somewhere. However, these religious freedom challenges haven't been incorporated into any consistent, long-term, strategic thinking on foreign policy.

But what if they should be? One could argue the one-off approach hasn't really advanced religious freedom worldwide, and that we should change the way we try to protect this right. Regardless, the assumption is that we are operating from a humanitarian basis. But what if the appeal was made on other grounds -- that religious freedom is not simply a humanitarian concern, but that it is in the interest of our own security to advance it around the world?

Despite a pattern of ongoing persecution and instability in various countries around the world, which is clearly related to a lack of religious freedom in those places, we have nevertheless resisted the possibility that homeland security threats exist because we have failed to cultivate religious freedom elsewhere. We tend to want to separate our own national security from worldwide religious freedom.

Emerging evidence suggests we've been wrong. With ongoing security threats around the world which show no sign of abating, shouldn't we at least be open to the possibility that we need to change our thinking on this issue?

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