Worldwide, Freedom Has Consequences
October 04, 2019
By Arielle Del Turco
The countries of Eastern Europe are familiar with the high cost of the failure to respect religious freedom. It's in this setting that FRC's President, and current U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Chair, Tony Perkins, delivered a speech in Poland on Thursday. As a part of the annual Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy, the Polish government put religious freedom on the agenda, acknowledging just how central it is to the flourishing of free societies.
We live in a global context which is increasingly hostile to religious freedom. Religious believers of all faiths find themselves in the midst of crises—Rohingya Muslims are forced to flee their homeland of Burma, North Korean Christians are sent to prison camps, and Yazidis are still prevented from returning home for fear of violence in Iraq. The global threats to religious freedom are more diverse and the solutions are more complex than ever before.
Atheistic regimes such as China find any religious beliefs a threat to the political ideology of the ruling Chinese Community Party and to the very authority of state. As a consequence, they heavily restrict religion by banning minors from entering churches, providing directives that sermons praise the state, tearing down crosses and replacing them with Chinese flags, and even detaining over a million mostly-Muslim Uyghurs because their culture is different from that of the dominate Han Chinese.
Elsewhere, non-state actors, including violent mobs and terrorist groups, harass and kill people for their faith. In Nigeria, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram and Muslim Fulani herdsmen regularly attack Christian farming villages and kidnaped and kill Christians. Boko Haram proudly posted a video on their website this week showing their execution of two Christian aid workers. These types of human rights violations due to religion cannot go unnoticed by the world. And the Nigerian government should not tolerate this within their borders.
While the denial of religious freedom is a global concern, the flourish of religious freedom has regional and global benefits. In his speech, Tony referenced the "growing body of empirical evidence, which shows that countries that honor and protect freedom of religion generally have more vibrant democracies, rising economic and social wellbeing, and diminished conflict and violence." The economic advances and regional security that correlates with religious freedom protections isn't something that should be brushed aside. If countries that struggle with poverty and violence want to progress, they need to make religious freedom policies a priority.
Furthermore, instability created by religious oppression is not bound by borders. It often has regional, and even global, consequences. This is why countries like the United States have an interest in promoting religious freedom abroad.
The benefits of religious freedom should motivate foreign leaders to prioritize religious freedom as a policy. Governments which deny their citizens the full expression of religious freedom should amend their laws to do so. Governments that tolerate religious freedom violations by non-state actors should immediately invest in protecting their religious minority communities and places of worship.
The suppression of religious freedom is an international issue and combatting it should be an international effort. It's encouraging to see countries like Poland embrace religious freedom as a foreign policy priority. The Polish government was instrumental in U.N.'s decision this year to declare August 22 the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. Initiatives like this are an important step in drawing the world's attention to horrors of religious oppression. Religious freedom is important not just for the sake those who wish to freely live out their faith (which is reason enough), but also because religious freedom is essential for developing and sustaining peace and economic growth.