US publishes International Religious Freedom Report for 2014

On 14 October Secretary of State John Kerry submitted the 2014 International Religious Freedom Report to the United States Congress.

Now in its 17th year, this congressionally-mandated Report comprises almost 200 distinct reports on countries and territories worldwide and continues to reflect the United States’ commitment to, and advancement of, the right of every person to freedom of religion or belief.

“Religious freedom extends way beyond mere tolerance,” John Kerry told reporters at a news conference. The concept, he said, “demands that the practitioners of one faith understand that they have no right to coerce others into submission, conversion or silence, or to literally take their lives because of their beliefs.”

Religion News Service reported that it is non-state actors, Kerry said at a State Department press conference, that are today “the principal persecutors and preventers of religious tolerance and practice.”

He called out these groups by name, topping the list with the Islamic State but referring to it as “Daesh,” a term with derogatory undertones used by other governments and many Arabs. Kerry continued with similarly violent groups: “al-Qaida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram.”

“All have been guilty of vicious acts of unprovoked violence,” Kerry said, describing the groups’ murder and enslavement of the innocent. “Children have been among the victims.”

Kerry released the report alongside Rabbi David Saperstein, the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, who  highlighted other worrisome trends.

Saperstein decried blasphemy laws and apostasy laws in countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan.

“The United States uniformly opposes such laws, which are used to oppress those whose religious beliefs happen to offend the majority,” Saperstein said. “Such laws are inconsistent with international human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we will continue to call for their universal repeal.”

He also pointed to governments that abuse their citizens “for simply exercising their faith or identifying with a religious community.”

“We see this dramatized by the plight of countless numbers of prisoners of conscience,” he said, and spoke of his travels to Vietnam, where he “saw firsthand how religious groups are forced to undergo onerous and arbitrary registration process to legally operate.”

The report itself quotes David Saperstein to explain its purpose: “There is an absolute and unequivocal need to give voice to the religiously oppressed in every land afraid to speak of what they believe in; who face death and live in fear, who worship in underground churches, mosques or temples, who feel so desperate that they flee their homes to avoid killing and persecution simply because they love God in their own way or question the existence of God.”

The report this year did not include what is often the most anticipated aspect: the listing of “Countries of Particular Concern.” The CPCs are not always tied to the report and will be released soon, said a State Department spokesman.

The countries currently on the CPC list are: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The full report