International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief

Threats to religious freedom

Katrina Lantos Swett and Daniel I. Mark | USCIRF

Katrina Lantos Swett and Daniel I. Mark are commissioners at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Seattle on Tuesday. TED S. WARREN / AP

Washington hosted two dramatically different dignitaries last week – Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both had meetings with President Obama, and the pope became the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress.

These two leaders are on exactly opposite paths: Pope Francis is a stalwart champion of human rights and witness for religious freedom while President Xi heads a regime that is one of the world’s most notorious violators of human rights, including religious freedom.

Pope Francis embodies religious freedom’s universal message and promise, as cited in Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“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.”

In contrast, President Xi symbolizes a world in which more than 75 percent of people live in countries that perpetrate or tolerate serious violations of this liberty.

Despite this global crisis for religious freedom, people who cherish this right are found across the globe. Now, people around the world must speak for the persecuted with one powerful, united voice.

Last weekend in New York, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) took its latest step in promoting that aim, bringing together like-minded people from nearly 50 countries for an unprecedented meeting. Cosponsored by the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPP), the gathering included more than 100 parliamentarians as well as diplomats and civil society and religious leaders. They met next to the United Nations, where the General Assembly is now in its 70th annual session.

Since its launch last November, the IPP has focused on threats to religious freedom from both governments and nonstate actors. Some governments, including China’s and North Korea’s, are secular tyrannies that suppress religious groups across the board. Other countries, such as Iran and Sudan, elevate a single religion or religious interpretation while persecuting those who embrace alternatives.

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