U.S. Policy and Programs in Support of International Religious Freedom

Fact Sheet
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
May 20, 2013

The Department of State, our missions abroad, and especially the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, leverage the various tools of the U.S. Government to promote and protect religious liberty around the world. Led in these efforts by the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook and the new Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Ira Forman, we use bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, public diplomacy, reporting, Countries of Particular Concern designations, and foreign assistance programming to urge greater respect for religious freedom for all, assist members of religious minorities, increase societal respect for religious freedom, highlight abuses, and monitor and combat anti-Semitism.

The Obama Administration has prioritized integrating religious freedom and religion writ large into the U.S. Government’s broader foreign policy objectives. Specifically, the Department of State has emphasized freedom of religion and protection of religious minorities by: 1) encouraging accountability for religious-based violence and ensuring the protection of citizens and places of worship; 2) urging governments to adopt legal protections for religious freedom and minorities and to amend or rescind restrictive laws; and 3) promoting societal respect for religious freedom and diversity.

Officers at U.S. missions abroad meet regularly with government officials and representatives of religious groups, both large and small, to discuss religious freedom. U.S officials criticize unjust laws and proposed laws, intervene on behalf of persecuted individuals, urge governments to permit religious groups to register, protest offensive statements by government officials, and encourage interfaith dialogue. In recent months, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook has visited Vietnam, China, and Saudi Arabia, raising religious freedom issues with senior government officials, and meeting with religious leaders of multiple faiths, including those not recognized by governments.

Embassy and consulate officers actively support those who work for a better climate for interfaith cooperation. Embassy officials maintain active relationships with non-governmental organizations, and embassies often host meetings with political and religious leaders to discuss religious freedom issues. This includes engagement with Islamic schools and other educational institutions directly and through exchange programs on topics such as religious freedom, tolerance, and respect for diversity. The executive summary and individual reports of the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report include examples of country-specific efforts.

The United States works through multilateral as well as bilateral channels to promote increased respect for religious freedom. In the multilateral arena, the United States continued to urge implementation of the UN Human Rights Council’s March 2011 adoption of resolution 16/18 on “Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief.” This resolution focuses on concrete, positive measures that states can take to combat religious intolerance, rather than pursuing legal measures to restrict speech, including religious expression. The U.S. Government continues to work with its international partners to further this strong stand for freedom of expression and worship, and against discrimination and violence based upon religion or belief.

We continue to focus foreign assistance funds on programs that promote religious freedom and combat anti-Semitism around the world. Projects include a rapid response program to provide emergency assistance to victims of religious persecution; a program that works with madrassahs to advance curriculum reform to promote religious tolerance and combat violent extremism; and a regional strategy linking religious freedom and other human rights with stability and combating violent extremism. We also have programs that promote interfaith cooperation and mutual respect through joint action programs, and others that promote the political rights and representation of religious minorities. Our programs are helping foreign governments review textbooks, curricula, and teacher training materials to identify and promote the removal of content that is biased, intolerant, and inflames sectarian tension. We also have a program that provides training to government officials in all areas of the world on engagement and cultural awareness with religious minorities, and on enforcing nondiscrimination laws.

For more information on the U.S. government's engagement on international religious freedom, visit www.humanrights.gov. Follow Ambassador-at-Large Suzan Johnson Cook on Facebook and Twitter at @HumanRightsGov and @IRFAmbassador.

PRN: 2013/0607