As the new U.S. Ambassador-at-Large (AAL) for International Religious Freedom, I want to introduce myself through this blog to the online community. First and foremost, I am honored and humbled by my appointment and by the confidence President Obama and Secretary Clinton have shown in me. I will do my utmost to use all the resources at my disposal, including social media, to advance freedom of religion around the world.
The AAL position was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, to advance religious freedom around the globe. Our annual International Religious Freedom Report to Congress is the primary resource we use to identify priorities, engage governments, and communicate with nongovernmental organizations about the importance of respecting and protecting religious communities and safeguarding the right of individuals to exercise their faith, hold or change their beliefs, or not to believe. Two additional tools to advance the cause of religious freedom are the designation of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) and Presidential Actions to motivate progress in those countries. We also advance religious freedom globally by expanding the awareness and training of our diplomats who serve around the world. We will use these and all other program resources to implement projects that address systemic issues challenging religious freedom -- including blasphemy, apostasy, and the right to change one's religion.
A critical part of promoting religious freedom around the globe is proactively engaging government and religious leaders, as well as grass-roots faith-based and nongovernmental communities, all of which can exert significant influence to cultivate a climate more receptive to religious freedom globally. The dramatic events unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa remind us that the desire for freedom lies deep within the human spirit. No greater freedom exists than the inherent desire of all people to enjoy the freedom to live according to their beliefs with governmental protection, not governmental interference.
We are deeply troubled by the increase in persecution and violence against religious minorities in many parts of the globe. Such brutal repression belies both our values and our security. In addition to facing threats of violence, religious groups -- whether they be Ahmadis, Baha'is, Buddhists, Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Sunni, Shi'a, or other religious minorities -- often face social, political, and economic exclusion or marginalization. Secretary Clinton has made it clear that, "We need to do much more to stand up for the rights of religious minorities." As she has emphasized, we have to speak out more to hold governments accountable. Fighting for the rights of the oppressed and speaking out about these injustices will continue to be my core mission.
I will bring to bear my own personal experiences to encourage diverse religious communities to jointly defend and advance religious freedom and foster a climate of mutual respect. Throughout my life, I have been presented with many opportunities to work with people of different faiths to bring them together to achieve common goals. As the Chaplain for the New York City Police Department, I was called upon after the 9/11 attacks to counsel citizens from different faiths and diverse national backgrounds and join with the partnership of faith in New York City. As a young woman, I worked with Operation Crossroads Africa, participated in a cross-cultural exchange with student groups in Ghana and Nigeria, and studied abroad in Valencia, Spain. I have met with Zulu faith leaders to promote religious freedom and tolerance in South Africa and Zimbabwe and have led interfaith delegations to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and throughout the Caribbean. I have been blessed in my life to travel to five continents to engage Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, Jews, and practitioners of several other spiritual traditions. I have learned important lessons from each of these experiences, and will call upon them as I encourage diverse communities to jointly defend and advance religious freedom and foster a climate of mutual respect.
America has learned much from its experience with religious diversity. We must share our lessons, stand with the persecuted, and encourage all governments to respect and protect the universal rights of all people. As President Obama so eloquently stated in his historic speech in Cairo in 2009, "People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul."
Religious freedom is the birthright of all people everywhere; it is a foundation of civil society, it is a key to international security, and it must always be a pillar of United States foreign policy. I believe this in my mind, heart, and soul. Religious freedom is a universal principle, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and protected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, I promise to do my best to fight for these values around the globe.