Two-thirds of the world live under religious persecution. That percentage may seem high, but according to the Pew Research Center, religious intolerance worldwide has in fact been increasing since 2007.
Consider just a few examples:
China is currently strengthening its censorship of Christian publications approved by the state, removing the words “Christ” and “Jesus.”
Meanwhile, in 2020 alone, just under 600,000 Tibetans were forced into labor camps for religious reasons.
In Pakistan, a family recently had to flee for their lives after the father, Asif Pervaiz, was sentenced to death on false accusations of blasphemy against Islam.
Recent reports from North Korea reveal that citizens there are frequently arrested for their faith and executed for possessing a Bible. Their newborn children are sometimes also murdered.
Beacon of Hope for International Religious Freedom
Religious persecution is nothing new. Throughout history, the most tyrannical regimes have silenced, censored, imprisoned, and murdered those who disagree with the state’s cultural orthodoxy.
The reason is clear. Religious liberty empowers people by suggesting that their rights come not from autocrats and dictators, but from God. Religious liberty threatens the very essence of totalitarianism.
Then, there is the United States—a country founded on the ideals of liberty, justice, and equality for all people of all faiths. Indeed, many pilgrims journeyed to the New World precisely in search of religious tolerance and freedom, practices not to be found in England at the time.
Later, in our Bill of Rights, religious freedom was made the “first freedom,” and for good reason: The Founders understood that religious freedom was essential to the maintenance of all other liberties. Freedom of religion fosters peace, promotes morality, and encourages the practice of limited government.
Benjamin Rush, a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence, famously wrote: “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”
Through our practices of religious freedom, the U.S. shines brightly as a beacon of hope to other nations. We are, indeed, a nation that endeavors to advance religious freedom worldwide, and we protect it jealously at home in part to serve as a model for others.
Advancement of International Religious Freedom Starts at Home
While religious persecution around the world is currently on the rise, the U.S. is working in concrete ways to promote international religious freedom.
This past June, the Trump administration issued an Executive Order, “Advancing Religious Freedom.” The order calls for the prioritization of international religious liberty in foreign policy; it promises financial assistance of $50 million per year to persecuted faith communities around the world; and it calls for the education of diplomats about the rampant persecution of people of faith.
Also this year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo established the International Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA), an international coalition of over two dozen countries who will work together to end global religious intolerance. This has already led some countries releasing individuals, “wrongly imprisoned on account of their belief.”
Moreover, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) continues to monitor and report on the state of religious freedom around the world, providing the facts for American diplomats who can then raise concerns about religious persecution in diplomatic bargaining.
The U.S. is the Standard
The Founders’ vision of a country built upon the ideal of the “free exercise” of religion can and should be extended to all countries around the world. People of all faiths (and even of no faith) should have the right to live out their beliefs in peace. As Americans, we have the privilege of enjoying the fruits of religious freedom. But with great freedom comes great responsibility.
Clearly, a nation where religious freedom thrives is not the status quo globally. Threats to freedom of religion are happening, and they are happening right now.
We have a constitutional obligation to advocate religious freedom. By taking up this duty, we are not simply helping fellow Americans; we are directly and indirectly helping the persecuted around the world.
In a stirring speech at the National Constitution Center earlier this year, Secretary Pompeo summed it up well: “America draws strength and goodness from her founding … We can’t do good at home or abroad if we don’t precisely know what we believe and why we believe it.”