Civil Society Assembly Urges Action Steps for Governments to Protect Fundamental Rights
by Eric P. Olsen
The Global Peace Foundation joined more than 70 international human rights and religious freedom organizations as co-conveners at the 2022 International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit in Washington on June 28-30.
The summit of religious freedom advocates, clerics, government representatives, and civil society leaders called religious freedom a “fundamental human right,” while bringing attention to abuses and persecution of religion around the globe.
The IRF summit highlighted significant bipartisan agreement on the issue of international religious freedom, with featured speakers that included Biden-administration ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom Rashad Hussain, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California), and former Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Sen. Marco Rubio (R- Florida) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and Rep. James Raskin (D-Maryland) and Rep. French Hill (R- Arkansas) serve as Honorary Chairs of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives respectively.
The IRF Charter, adopted in July 2021, states that “the defense of religious freedom transcends partisanship and politics, and the protection of conscience serves as a fundamental cornerstone for the flourishing of just, free societies.”
Further, Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948 and cited in the IRF Charter, affirms, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Religious repression growing worldwide
Despite a voting consensus among UN member states, some 80 percent of the world’s population today live in countries with significant governmental or societal restrictions on religion. Repression of faith extends from laws governing social behavior or limiting religious expression in public to persecution and suppression of religion by the state and brutal acts of terrorism against religious communities by extremists.
Framing the issue before the gathering of some 1000 religious freedom advocates, Tom Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute and first director of the U.S. State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, said to deny a right to faith is “to attack the very core of human dignity.” He said incidents such as the recent torture, burning, and murder of a young woman by fellow students in Nigeria is the result of “youth [who] are taught to loathe those of other faiths.”
Yet repression of religion is advancing in western democratic nations as well, Farr said. in Finland, he noted, a long-serving Christian Democratic parliamentarian is currently subject to criminal prosecution for expressing biblically based views of marriage and sexual ethics in a two-year old tweet.
Engaging civil society
Global Peace Foundation Vice President of Religious Freedom Initiatives Dr. Paul Murray served as moderator for the first-ever Civil Society Congress convened on June 28. Delegates of organizations and religious communities presented difficult accounts of religious and ethnic repression around the world, including Christian, Uighur Muslim, Tibetan Buddhist, and Falun Gong adherents in China, who have specifically been targeted for “organ harvesting” by the Chinese government.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion [and] . . . to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
--UN Declaration of Human Rights
As religious freedom continues to decline around the world,” Murray told the summit, “the civil society community is well positioned to provide insight and creativity in reversing the negative trends. The innovative solutions put forth in this conference are intended to provide governments around the world with practical action steps to advance religious freedom. For the first time in history, the international religious freedom movement is providing solutions from an exceptionally diverse religious perspective.
“Nations with a high degree of religious freedom produce stronger societies,” Murray said. “The mission of this civil society conference is to empower policy makers and national leaders to pursue meaningful progress in developing a stronger bond of multifaith partnership.”
Through its Religious Freedom Initiatives, the Global Peace Foundation has championed and executed a range of multilateral initiatives that provide education, awareness, and advocacy in addressing international religious freedom violations and domestic religious liberty infringements.
For more information on GPF’s religious freedom initiatives, visit Religious Freedom Initiatives | Global Peace Foundation.