Since the founding of our country, the right to freedom of religion or belief has been at the very heart of who we are as Americans. January 16 marks two hundred and thirty-two years since the enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia Statute served as the model for protecting religious liberty later enshrined in our cherished First Amendment. These protections have played a pivotal role in our success as a nation, and continue to serve as an inspiration and beacon of hope throughout the world.
Unfortunately, the religious freedom we take for granted at home is under serious attack throughout the world, as individuals and communities suffer egregious abuses at the hands of repressive governments, terrorist groups, and intolerant fellow citizens. One need only look at the headlines on any given day to see the immense suffering of individuals on account of their religious identity and beliefs. In recent years, we have seen ISIS commit genocide against Christians, Shia Muslims, and Yezidis in an attempt to eliminate thousands of years of religious diversity from the Middle East. In Burma, Rohingya Muslims have been victims of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Burmese security forces. In Pakistan, Ahmadiyya Muslims face institutionalized discrimination due to laws and policies that criminalize the free exercise of their faith and 26 individuals are serving life sentences for “blasphemy.” Regimes including those in Iran, Sudan, and China persecute Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Uighur Muslims, and others.
These are but a few examples that illustrate why protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration. While there is so much work to be done, the Trump administration efforts to achieve justice and accountability for these violations and abuses are well underway. In the Middle East we are taking firm steps to defeat ISIS while we work with members of affected religious minorities to restore their communities, their religious freedom, and their way of life. We have enhanced our cooperation with like-minded governments to combat the actions of abusive regimes, to strengthen our vital efforts to promote mutual respect and understanding across religious lines in divided societies.
On this day, let us not take for granted the freedoms that we have sought to perfect over the life of our great nation. Let us remember that Americans stand, as we always have done, with those who suffer because of their beliefs. Together with our partners, both at home and abroad, we will strive for a more just world where all can enjoy the freedoms of thought, conscience, and religion.
About the Author: Dan Nadel serves as a Director in the International Religious Freedom Office at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.