Washington — The protection of religious freedom and the promotion of religious tolerance around the world are fundamental concerns of the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at the roll-out of the State Department’s 13th annual International Religious Freedom Report.
“As we release this report, we reaffirm the role that religious freedom and tolerance play in building stable and harmonious societies,” Clinton said September 13 at the State Department event.
“When governments crack down on religious expression, when politicians or public figures try to use religion as a wedge issue, or when societies fail to take steps to denounce religious bigotry and curb discrimination based on religious identity, they embolden extremists and fuel sectarian strife,” she said.
Clinton added that the reverse is also true: Governments that respect religious freedom and work with civil society to promote mutual respect can “create a climate of tolerance that helps make a country more stable, more secure and more prosperous.”
She said the United States will continue efforts to support religious freedom both at home and abroad, as religious tolerance is an essential element “not only of a sustainable democracy, but also of a peaceful society that respects the rights and dignity of each individual.”
Clinton said people who have a voice in how they are governed, no matter their religion, are more likely to have a stake in the success of both their government and society. “That is good for stability, for American national security and for global security,” she said.
The secretary applauded Turkish authorities for taking recent steps to improve religious tolerance. She said the government issued a decree in August inviting non-Muslims to reclaim churches and synagogues confiscated 75 years ago. Clinton said Turkey now allows women to wear headscarves at universities, “which means female students no longer have to choose between their religion and their education.”
She said the goals of the new report are to call attention to steps taken to improve religious freedom and to promote tolerance while also shining a spotlight on violations of religious freedom. She was joined at the release by Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook.
The report is submitted each year to Congress in compliance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. It documents major developments with respect to religious freedom and tolerance in 198 countries and territories. Although the report typically covers a one-year period, the September release only spans July to December 2010, as the State Department is shifting to a calendar-year reporting period.