Religious freedom, like other human rights, is strongly correlated with political stability – and repression of religion or belief can be a major driver of conflict and violence. Around the world today, we see discrimination or targeting of religious minorities associated with growing social tensions, inter-communal conflict, violence and even mass atrocities. Muslims in India, Rohingyas in Myanmar, Uyghurs in China, Yazidis in Iraq and Christians in Pakistan: all are subject to forms of violence that have corollary effects on the broader prospects for peace and stability in their respective contexts. When marginalized religious groups respond, it often leads to higher levels of religious restriction by governments or non-state actors, leading to a vicious cycle of declining stability.
In this era of violent religious persecution abroad, there is a growing need for cohesive and effective American leadership to advance religious freedom internationally. At the same time, a growing polarization in the country could threaten to undermine the long-standing bipartisan consensus on the importance of the issue.
Questions and debates about how best to promote international religious freedom (IRF) are not new. While these are critical questions that need to continue to be discussed, if domestic politics adds complications to answering them, it could hamper collaboration and diminish the effectiveness of policy implementation – which, at this day, has been admirably non-partisan in nature. Such an outcome would be detrimental to the interests and values of the United States and of those around the world who are harassed, persecuted or subjected to violence because of their beliefs.
Towards common ground
To better understand and address this challenge, USIP established an International Religious Freedom Task Force that included experts and former leaders from all religious and political backgrounds. Our new USIP report, “Maintaining International Religious Freedom as a Central Principle of U.S. National Security,” builds on the insights of this diverse task force, and their discussions have informed our recommendations on how to protect the IRF from political polarization and build bipartisan consensus around the importance of the IRF.
A clear consensus among participants was that political polarization in the United States could pose risks to the long-standing bipartisan consensus on RI policy, to the detriment of the interests and values of the United States and of those suffering for its beliefs or their practices. National debates influence how the issues surrounding the promotion of IRF – the nature of the challenge itself and the appropriate steps – are viewed and interpreted. Further, many have seen differing understandings of “religion” and “freedom” as creating new divides, making intense debates about race, gender, sexuality, immigration and public health more difficult to resolve. to land.
Participants also agreed that the collective biases of different political groups, often based on historical tensions, influence and shape each party’s commitment to religious freedom as well as interpretations of international standards and approaches to promoting religious freedom. the RFID. Additionally, task force members identified persistent patterns in these perceived biases, such as the perception that some lack interest or dedication to the cause, contrasting with a second where others instrumentalize the IRF to pursue political programs or to proselytize. While examples abound that debunk these impressions, IRF advocates need to be aware of how different groups in this space often view each other so that the issue does not succumb to trends that lead to new differences. Otherwise, today’s turbulent political landscape could exacerbate differences surrounding the promotion of international religious freedom, impacting what should ideally be nonpartisan work.
Recommendations for a non-partisan approach
We conclude that international religious freedom “will only remain a central pillar of American foreign and security policy if it receives bipartisan support.” However, if the advancement of the IRF is threatened by polarization, the United States will lose the advantage of common accord at home, to the detriment of national security and human rights.
Our report makes several recommendations to advance a nonpartisan approach to international religious freedom.
- Recognize key differences between domestic debates and foreign repression and affirm the IRF as a core American value and a central pillar of American foreign and security policy.
- Found and explain the IRF with broadly shared, cross-partisan political priorities related to the promotion of peace, stability and national security.
- Explore common challenges and needs of diverse at-risk communities to enable broader cooperation between advocacy programs.
- Use the policy tools of the IRF (e.g. the Countries of Particular Concern and Special Watch List mechanisms) to strengthen democracies around the world committed to human rights, the rule of law and pluralism Politics.
- Balance the use of sanctions with community-level efforts to cultivate mutual respect and pluralism.
- Integrate the work of the Office of the IRF and the Goodwill Ambassador with the core functions of the Department of State, especially the offices and bureaus whose missions overlap with the IRF.
- Pursue strategic religious engagement as a central function with its own office within the Department of State.
- Continue to support religious freedom ministerial meetings and the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance.
- Make a concerted effort to model bipartisanship within the relatively small community of IRF leaders, advocates and practitioners.