Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of State released its Annual Report on International Religious Freedom as required by federal law. (You can view the full report, which covers the 2021 calendar year, on the State Department website here.) I especially found the summary given by the US Ambassador to the International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain, who pointed out three main topics in the report:
First, many governments use discriminatory laws and policies and abuse their own people. We have seen two genocides of religious minority communities in recent years in China and Burma.
Second, growing social intolerance and hatred are fueling violence and conflict worldwide. Governments should not remain silent or back in the face of such oppression.
Third, strong cooperation between civil society, governments and multilateral partners has led to some progress and offers hope in addressing these complex challenges.
In one press conference presenting the reportSecretary of State Anthony Blinken echoed examples of progress in religious freedom in many parts of the world, but noted the important problems that remain:
Unfortunately, the report also shows that we have more work to do. In many parts of the world, governments are not respecting the fundamental rights of their citizens. Some governments continue to use blasphemy and abandonment laws, which prohibit defamation and renunciation of religion, to control the language of religious minorities. Others restrict expressions of religious belief such as restrictions on religious dress. And all societies, including our society and across Europe, need to do more to combat the growing forms of hatred, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
Ambassador Hussain added:
On the pages of this year’s report are stories of individuals who have endured indescribable persecution, governments that have tried to restrict religion, practice and religious expression to people in a wide range of faith traditions. Non-state actors have targeted religious groups, attacked places of worship, and insulted religious, ethnic, and racial groups in their hate narratives, including social media platforms. From Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia; Jews in Europe; Bahais in Iran; Christians in North Korea, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia; Muslims in Burma and China; Catholics in Nicaragua; and atheists and humanists worldwide, no community has been immune from these abuses.
In November, the State Department released its annual list of countries of particular concern: Burma, the People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, as well as designated countries. in its Special Observation List: Algeria, Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua.
In other international news on religious freedom, President Joe Biden has done just that named Stephen Schneck American Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Schneck is the former head of the Institute for Catholic Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America.
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