Protecting Religious Freedom Abroad

Leonard A. Leo is the Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and the Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society.

Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou is Vice Chair of the USCIRF and an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Boston University.

For much of the world, there is no greater human right than the freedom to practice one’s religion or belief system according to the dictates of conscience, without fear of coercion or retaliation.

 Yet, across much of the globe, religious freedom and related human rights are egregiously and routinely violated.   The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reports on countries that it deems serious or severe violators — based on criteria laid down by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) which created the Commission — and provides independent policy recommendations for US government action.   

When most people picture violations of religious freedom, they imagine governments either preventing people from worshipping or otherwise abusing them for their beliefs.   They may think of China, the world’s most populous country, where disfavored religious groups, from Tibetan Buddhists to Uighur Muslims, and from the Protestant house church movement to the Falun Gong, are ruthlessly suppressed.   They may picture Iran, where a theocratic regime still provides for the execution of all individuals, regardless of faith or confession, who are convicted of the charge of “waging war against God”– thus targeting reformers among the Shi’a majority, as well as members of religious minorities, including Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Baha’is, and Christians, while stirring up anti-Semitism by promoting Holocaust denial.


An Overlooked Threat to Religious Freedom

The above examples are classic cases of state oppression of religious freedom, where governments

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