Thursday, January 23, 2014

Religious freedom policies needed to protect conscience

Excerpted from "Why religious freedom matters" CNN commentary by Robert P. George and Katrina Lantos Swett, January 16, 2014 - Editor’s note: Robert P. George and Katrina Lantos Swett serve as chairman and vice chairwoman, respectively, of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Supporting religious freedom or belief abroad is not just a legal or moral duty, but a practical necessity that is crucial to the security of the United States – and the world – as it builds a foundation for progress and stability. Research confirms that religious freedom in countries that honor and protect this right is generally associated with vibrant political democracy, rising economic and social well-being, and diminished tension and violence. In contrast, nations that trample on religious freedom are more likely to be mired in poverty and insecurity, war and terror, and violent, radical extremism.

Given the compelling case for supporting religious freedom abroad, why is it still so often given short shrift?

Simply stated, powerful concerns and emotions and differing world views are in play. For example, some people erroneously believe that democratic governance requires the exclusion or marginalization of any public dialogue, debate or policy that includes religion. Others view religion and related issues as exclusively personal and thus belonging solely in private life.

Still others worry that, when connected to an issue, religion generates needless and/or unresolvable tensions and controversies and thus is best left alone, perhaps recalling some of history's worst excesses in religion's name. Some are uncomfortable specifically with "organized religion" and may prefer to frame issues in terms of general spirituality. And some who have an exclusively secular approach and a non-theistic perspective may think that promoting religious freedom infringes on their right not to believe.

What all of these concerns share is the view that religion and religious freedom should be off the radar and divorced from foreign policy.

The answer to such concerns is that advocating for freedom of religion overseas is not about supporting a privileged position for religion, but the right to follow one's conscience. It is about insisting that advocating for religious freedom abroad be viewed in the same way as advocating for other essential rights guaranteed under international law. And, contrary to popular myth, this view encompasses not just the freedom to practice peacefully any religion and all that is associated with it, but the freedom not to believe – the right to reject any and all religion, publicly and privately.

While religious freedom cannot be separated from religion, it is actually less about religion per se than affirming a bedrock, internationally-recognized human right, one that has proven time and again to be a foundational freedom for other freedoms.


CMDA Right of Conscience Resources

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