June 28, 2018
The last time Nikki Haley went to India, she was the governor of South Carolina. It was 2014, two full years before the next president would give her one of the most critical diplomatic jobs on his team. Now, the daughter of Punjab immigrants is back in her parents' homeland with a very different mission: finding common ground between two nations on religious freedom.
For the last several months, Trump's U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. has put her stamp on many key international decisions. She's fought the anti-Israel forces at the controversial body, helped to roll back the abortion evangelism of the last administration, promoted life, and pulled the United States out of the U.N.'s joke of a Human Rights Council. During her confirmation hearing, Haley was honest. "International diplomacy is a new area for me. Like most government agencies, the United Nations could benefit from a fresh set of eyes. I will take an outsider's look at the institution."
If it's a new area for her, Haley's a natural. She's earned a reputation at the U.N. and among conservatives as a clear voice of reason and truth. She doesn't shy away from the tough issues, even when the world's leaders come at her as they did when the president announced his decision to move the U.S.'s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. "At the UN we're always asked to do more & give more," Haley tweeted from her phone before the U.N. Security Council formally condemned the U.S. "So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, about where to locate OUR embassy, we don't expect those we've helped to target us. On Thurs there'll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names."
Like the president, Nikki Haley speaks the truth -- even if she's expressing it alone. Over the last two days in India, she's tried to use her same powers of persuasion to promote another one of the administration's priorities: international religious freedom. Before an inter-faith tour with leaders there, she made a point of saying that she looked forward to it because "we think freedom of religion is just as important as freedom of rights and freedom of people."
"We look to the fact that we are two of the oldest democracies that share the value of people, the values of freedom, the values of opportunity. We see there are opportunities between the U.S. and India in multiple levels. Whether it is countering terrorism, whether it is the fact that we want to continue our democratic opportunities, or start to work together more strongly on the military aspect, there are lots of things that India and the U.S. have in common."
While the common ground between the U.S. and India on religious freedom may exist in theory, in practice the nation has an exclusionary concept of national identity (based on the Hindu religion) that's made religious liberty difficult, if not impossible in practice. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's (USCIRF) most recent report lists India as a Tier 2 country, which is defined by USCIRF as nations in which there are violations of religious freedom that are either "systematic," "ongoing," or "egregious."
The focus on religious freedom is a refreshing reminder of the transformation that's taken place in the State Department and across the executive branch under President Trump. We've gone from a White House that had difficulty even saying the words "religious freedom" to one that makes it a signature issue everywhere Trump's team goes. To the relief of people in faraway lands, our State Department is once again carrying the torch for the persecuted in a way that the world expects and deserves. And not a moment too soon.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.