International Religious Freedom

Freedom of religion, especially internationally, is not as straightforward as we may believe. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 outlines: “Freedom of religious belief and practice is a universal human right and fundamental freedom articulated in numerous international instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Helsinki Accords, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, the United Nations Charter, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”. Although the International Religious Freedom Act and the United Nations have included religious freedom within law, protections are not always upheld.

While freedoms may not always be upheld, it is clear that International Law firmly believes that everyone has a right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Art. 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights). Although international law supports the idea of religious freedom and freedom of worship, many nations across the world have limited freedom, yet the western world stays silent.

Individuals that practice faiths not recognized by their government may be persecuted and targeted as victims of hate crimes. The bias and prejudice towards these groups can cause a stark divide within the nation and perpetuate a climate of intolerance and fear. Individual identities begin to precede those shared as a whole, enabling society’s differences to forego their similarities.

The unity of society disintegrates as citizens become afraid to practice fundamental freedoms. They begin to feel isolated from their homeland, especially as the nation becomes predisposed to violence. Countries that minimally restrict their citizen’s right to religion have not reported widespread violence related to religion. Social restrictions and movements that seek to enable a single religion have been strongly correlated with violence related to religion.

The harm permeates throughout society, affecting social, political, and economic conditions. Religious violence was evident in 80 percent of the countries with extreme religious segregation, although merely 6% of the countries with little or no religious segregation reported similar incidences.

Importance of Religious Freedom

International religious freedom is essential for all Americans, even if we are not directly affected. In China’s Xinjiang region Uyghurs are subjugated to discrimination and detainment because of their religion. Crackdowns from Myanmar’s army on Rohingya Muslims have caused displacement and death for many of Myanmar’s Muslim population.

Religious freedom, whether domestic or international, is important to all people regardless of faith. All people of faith should be able to express themselves and worship in anyway way they deem fit. While our religious freedoms in America are held sacred, it is critical that we speak up for those whose liberties might be violated.

Our Work

As an organization, we are active participants in the International Religious Freedom Roundtable sponsored by the US Department of State and have worked on issues related to religious freedom both domestically and internationally.

In 2020 we were honored to host two side events at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom regarding race, history, and religious freedom bringing together major thought leaders surrounding these subjects.

In Texas, we worked on a resolution with Representative Jetton to highlight and renew the commitment of our state in regard to religious freedom. Recently, we brought forward the first resolution in the United States, at a municipal level, to express support for the Uyghur movement.

Statistics

  • 64 nations (⅓) of the countries in the world have severe restrictions on religion
  • 70% of the global population live in countries with high restrictions on religion.
  • 178 countries require religious groups to register with the national government
  • 87% of nations experience religious tension
  • 64% of nations experience physical violence on the basis of religious tension