USCIRF Chair Comments on the State of International Religious Freedom

In an October 19, 2012 op-ed for Eurasia Review, Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), discusses the main issues of concern facing religious freedom today: barriers to constructing and safely using places of worship and governmental limitations on religious rights. Complicated procedures exist for those wishing to obtain approval to construct a place of worship. Straightforward discrimination toward a variety of religions tends to be disguised within these “complications.” There are a plethora of seemingly neutral excuses that can block the construction, such as zoning issues or problems of historic preservation. Ultimately, these end up being covers that allow discrimination to flourish.

Places of worship that already exist are increasingly becoming targets of physical assault, throughout Western Europe, Tajikistan and Turkey. In Western Europe, many synagogues, mosques, churches and other houses of worship have been vandalized in the past months. Tajikistan has closed many mosques and “non-traditional” religious buildings in the past year.

Swett concludes, "Governments have a responsibility to protect religious freedom or belief in all of its aspects for all individuals. While they cannot prevent every act of intolerance, governments have a duty to address such acts as they occur. As a core human right, religious freedom matters for billions of people. It’s time for governments to protect it fully."