The United States government should make protecting religious freedom around the world one of its strategic priorities in foreign policy, according to a Congressional panel that met on Oct. 27.
Chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the hearing was focused on the “global crisis” of religious freedom, and called experts in the field to provide proposals and why and how the U.S. government should act.
“The world is witnessing a global religious freedom crisis that poses a direct challenge to U.S. interests in the Middle East, Asia, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa,” Smith said.
Speakers included Robert George, chairman of the United States Committee on International Religious Freedom, a government-funded agency; and David Saperstein, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
“We continue to face daunting, alarming, and growing challenges to religious freedom around the world,” Ambassador Saperstein said, highlighting the programs that the State Department has underway to help.
Robert George said that religious freedom should be considered of roughly coequal importance to the traditional loci of foreign policy, such as economic and security affairs. “In countries that honor and protect this right,” he said, “religious freedom generally is associated with vibrant political democracy, rising economic and social well-being, and diminished tension and violence.”
Freedom of religion thus impacts “the security of the United States and overall global stability.”
George thus proposed boosting emphasis on the “Countries of Particular Concern” designation applied by the State Department to egregious violators of religious freedom. China, for instance, along with countries like Burma, Eritrea, Iran, and North Korea, has been on that list for over a decade. He outlined a series of policy measures that could be used to potentially penalize those countries and encourage them to cease state-sponsored religious persecution, including by the United States calling attention to abuses in those countries in a more high-profile manner.
Li Chen contributed to the report.