|Op-Ed: The Hill -- Remembering International Religious Freedom Day, October 30, 2013|
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October 30, 2013 | By Robert P. George
The following op-ed appeared in The Hill on October 30, 2013.
This past Sunday, the United States commemorated International Religious Freedom Day, marking the 15th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA).
IRFA created an international religious freedom office in the U.S. State Department, headed by an ambassador-at-large, and the independent, bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which I chair. Since its inception, USCIRF has monitored religious freedom worldwide and made policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state, and Congress in response to governments that violate this fundamental right.
The law also advocates strong and consistent U.S. participation in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations as a vital way to advance religious freedom and shine the spotlight on violators.
Finally, the United States should continue its vigorous opposition to efforts at the UN to restrict speech deemed religiously offensive or controversial. For more than a decade, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), with its annual resolutions focusing on “combating defamation of religions,” had made the HRC and General Assembly centers of activity to establish a global blasphemy law violating freedom of religion and expression. Along with members of Congress, the State Department, and key nongovernmental organizations, USCIRF helped bring about a marked decrease between 2008 and 2010 in support for these flawed resolutions. As a result, in 2011 and 2012 both UN bodies adopted consensus resolutions which rightly focus on protecting individuals from discrimination or violence rather than shielding religions from criticism; protect the adherents of all religions or beliefs, instead of favoring one over others; and call for positive measures like education and outreach instead of legal restrictions on peaceful expression. The new resolutions support criminalization only in the case of incitement to imminent violence.
The United States and other UN member states must remain vigilant against any efforts to erode the language of the new resolutions or to use other means to move toward global anti-blasphemy laws.
In enacting IRFA fifteen years ago, Congress and the President recognized that religious freedom matters. It is an integral part of our history and identity as a free nation, a key human right recognized by international law and treaty, a core component of our commitment to defend democracy globally, and a necessary element of our national security and our determination to ensure a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable world. In the aftermath of International Religious Freedom Day, let us rededicate our efforts, at the UN and elsewhere, on behalf of this pivotal liberty.
George is chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).