"It is not an accident that freedom of religion is one of the central freedoms in our Bill of Rights. It is the first freedom of the human soul--the right to speak the words that God places in our mouths. We must stand for that freedom in our country. We must speak for that freedom in the world."
President George W. Bush
May 3, 2001, speech to the
American Jewish Committee
The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act requires that the Secretary of State, assisted by the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, publish an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom each September. The Annual Reports must include a description of the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, including any violations of religious freedom and any trends toward improvement, as well as an Executive Summary.
The purpose of these reports is to advance the U.S. policy of promoting religious freedom internationally--to speak for that freedom in the world. U.S. policy draws deeply on two traditions: the history and commitment of the American people, and the standards established by the international community. These two traditions not only are consistent but are mutually supportive.
The U.S. Commitment to Religious Liberty
The United States has a longstanding commitment to religious liberty. America's founders made religious freedom the first freedom of the Constitution--giving it pride of place among those liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights--because they believed that guaranteeing the right to search for transcendent truths and ultimate human purpose was a critical component of a durable democracy.
The Founders believed in the universality of human dignity--that all human beings are endowed by the Creator with certain rights that are theirs by virtue of their existence. These rights were inalienable because they were understood to exist prior to societies and governments, and were granted by neither.
A commitment to the inviolable and universal dignity of the human person is at the core of U.S. human rights policy abroad, including the policy of advocating religious freedom. Governments that protect religious freedom for all their citizens are more likely to protect the other fundamental human rights. Encouraging stable, healthy democracies is a vital national interest of the United States. The spread of democracy makes for good neighbors, economic prosperity, increased trade, and a decrease in conflict.
The International Norm of Religious Freedom
Freedom of religion and conscience is one of the foundational rights in the post-War system of international human rights instruments. Beginning with Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, religious freedom also is provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Helsinki Accords, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The belief that fundamental human rights are not created by, but exist prior to, governments is reflected in international instruments as well. According to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights--the foundational text for international human rights advocacy,--"all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights," and are "endowed with reason and conscience."
In recent years, the international commitment to religious freedom has increased. For example, in 1986 the U.N. Commission on Human Rights established the office of the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, now the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Since his appointment in 1993, Special Rapporteur Abdelfattah Amor has issued reports on a variety of countries, including Sudan, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Pakistan, Iran, Vietnam, India, Australia, Greece, Germany, and the United States. His work provides substantial and continuing evidence of the commitment of the international community to promoting religious freedom.
The Department of State presents this third Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (2001) both because it is a vital part of U.S. human rights policy and furthers the interests of the United States, and because of our abiding commitment to the international standard of religious freedom.