Fellows Brief: Depoliticizing International Religious Freedom

On August 21, 2020 International Christian Concern convened a group of Washington, D.C.-based experts to discuss the importance of advancing international religious freedom (IRF) in apolitical terms within a highly-charged political environment. The broad support enjoyed by Article 18 of the UDHR and the IRF Act of 1998 stand out as examples of the bipartisan cooperation needed on the issue, and, while it can be challenging to communicate the apolitical nature of IRF in Washington, D.C., all participants agreed that it is vital.

The discussion then looked ahead to the 2020 Presidential Election in November and considered how civil society can best advance the cause of IRF in 2021 and beyond. President Trump has been a vocal supporter of IRF issues since he took office, and the Democratic party platform contains strong language in support of religious freedom around the world. Opportunity for the advancement of religious freedom exists on both sides of the aisle. Discussion participants considered the positive and negative potential of both candidates in regards to IRF and suggested ways that civil society could positively engage with whichever administration is put in place after the election.

The discussion concluded with the institutionalization of IRF in Washington, a task that is key for the survival of the issue amidst shifting political will in the coming decades. Participants considered the success of the broader human rights community in this regard, and how the international religious freedom community can better communicate the importance of IRF as a human right.

Strong leadership from the United States is crucial for the advancement of religious freedom around the world, and we only get there by putting aside our partisan political differences and uniting on the issue of religious freedom as a fundamental human right.

Key Takeaways

  • The topic of international religious freedom must be consistently differentiated from politicized issues of domestic religious freedom
  • U.S. standards on international religious freedom should be enforced on other countries consistently and regardless of our political ties to that country
  • Gains made in recent years should be capitalized on by the next administration, particularly in regards to institutionalizing IRF through things like the Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom, the International Religious Freedom Alliance, and various mechanisms for benefiting from civil society input

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