Religious Liberty No Longer an American Priority

Tony Perkins is President of Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Epoch Times on January 19, 2022. 

The Declaration of Independence is America’s charter. It’s the foundation on which our republic rests, which is why its most critical assertion remains relevant to every American.

That assertion is that our essential rights, rights from which we can’t be separated as they’re intrinsic to our very humanity, come from God, not the government. And the implication of this claim—that our Creator has endowed us with those rights—is as powerful today as it was in 1776: The primary allegiance of every individual must be to God, not to any government.

This is why religious liberty is so vital. If we can’t practice our most deeply held convictions, beliefs that determine how we live and what we value, then we’re merely wards of the state, hoping for an authoritarian government’s mercy.

That’s true not just for Americans but for all people everywhere. It’s why religious liberty is critical to the way our country relates to the rest of the world. Nations that don’t honor religious liberty impose a grave threat to their own people, as well as a risk to the rest of the world. This religious intolerance leads to unrest and violence, which in turn lead to the kind of chaos that creates groups like the Taliban or brutal crackdowns on disfavored religions.

It’s in this context that the way the Biden administration is approaching international religious liberty is so troubling. “Human rights are … co-equal,” intoned Secretary of State Antony Blinken in March of last year. “There is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others.” He said this after eliminating the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, claiming that the Commission’s focus on religious liberty was “unbalanced.”

The reality is that around the world, no human right is under such broad and sustained assault as the right to live out one’s faith. To say that our previous emphasis on international religious liberty was “unbalanced” is like saying that since a mosquito bite and stage-four cancer are both threats to health, they should be given equal treatment.

Over the past year, President Joe Biden has consistently downplayed the brutal religious persecution of our time. Consider Nigeria, where in 2020, “more Christians were murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country,” according to Open Doors. Yet in November, the Biden State Department intentionally removed Nigeria from the list of nations identified for their religious intolerance when they did not redesignate Nigeria a “country of particular concern.” Instead, the Biden administration plans to treat Nigeria as “a country with no severe religious freedom violations.”

Then there was the humiliating U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. American Enterprise Institute scholar Hal Brands writes that “the collapse of that country” is “a tragedy for many Afghans consigned to Taliban rule. It will also leave a dark legacy, moral and strategic, that the U.S. will not soon escape.”

Brands’ prophecy is already proving true: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports that “Afghans who do not adhere to the Taliban’s harsh and strict interpretation of Islam, as well as those who follow other faiths or beliefs, face grave threats in the current environment.” These include such things as “executions, disappearances, evictions, desecration of houses of worship, [and] beatings.” And as reported by Open Doors, since “leaving Islam is considered a sign of insanity, [Afghan] Christians from a Muslim background can even be sent to a psychiatric hospital for life.”

It’s difficult to navigate the waters of foreign policy. Our national security and vital interests sometimes require hard choices. For example, the president, to his credit, recently signed bipartisan legislation that “bans imports from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) of … China and imposes sanctions on foreign individuals responsible for forced labor in the region.”

Yet on balance, the Biden record so far indicates that the president has little interest in advancing religious liberty around the world. This can’t help but embolden those who would crush religious liberty, perhaps most especially among Christians. According to the respected Open Doors anti-persecution ministry, “Around the world, more than 340 million Christians live in places where they experience high levels of persecution, just for following Jesus.”

Of course, America can’t defend abroad what it refuses to defend at home. Whether it be through its support for federally funded abortion or its insistence that persons of faith be required to provide services to activities that run counter to their beliefs, this administration’s hostility to religious liberty is extensive.

The principles of the Declaration are enduring. Their erosion by Biden here within our borders offers a strong explanation for why he is, at best, tepid in fighting for them abroad.