To hear many Americans describe it, their religious freedom is under constant attack from hostile sources.
Many states such as Missouri have tried to pass “religious freedom” bills that, among other needless things, would try to protect bakers from making their services available to gay couples.
The reality is that religious freedom in the U.S. is in terrific shape compared with much of the rest of the world. Proof was offered again in the new 2016 annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Read it and weep.
In the last year, the report says, “religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault.”
The problem isn’t concentrated in just one part of the world: “From the plight of new and long-standing prisoners of conscience, to the dramatic rise in the numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, to the continued acts of bigotry against Jews and Muslims in Europe, and to the other abuses detailed in this report, there was no shortage of attendant suffering worldwide.”
The commission was created in the 1990s and has done laudable work monitoring abuses of religious freedom. But often the U.S. State Department doesn’t take its recommendations seriously enough and publicize the worst abusers of religious liberty, trying to force needed changes in other countries.
Adherents of many religions suffer abuse. The Islamic State has been brutal in its attack on Christians, and Christians in China often fare badly.
In Iran, lots of religious people suffer. As the commission report says, “Elevating its own interpretation of Shi’a Islam above all others, Iran subjects its people — from Shi’a, Sunni and Sufi Muslim dissenters to Baha’is and Christian converts — to increasing religious freedom abuses, from harassment to arrests and imprisonment.”
Among the worst offenders, as usual, are North Korea, where “thousands of religious believers and their families are imprisoned in labor camps.”
In Saudi Arabia, the House of Saud monarchy permits no public worship unconnected to Islam. It also continues to sponsor the starkly rigid Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam there and elsewhere, promoting it in countries like the U.S. that, unlike Saudi Arabia, guarantee religious freedom.
What can Americans do?
Ask elected officials to raise their voices about this series of international outrages. Educate themselves about the extent of abuse in the world and, through their own faith community’s international connections, speak out about the problem. Ask what political candidates intend to do about this.
And, they can keep a sense of perspective, recognizing that much-publicized U.S. “religious freedom” problems are quite insignificant compared with the persecution experienced elsewhere.