Commentary Magazine


Topic: Global Affairs

Priorities

Obama appointed an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. Plainly, ingratiating the administration with the Muslim World is a priority. What is not a priority is the cause of religious freedom and human rights, more generally. Thomas Farr writes:

The United States’ 12-year-old policy of advancing religious freedom abroad has received a fair amount of attention in recent months. Two reports — one by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the other by the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — have recommended that President Barack Obama emphasize religious freedom in his foreign policy. Two nonpartisan letters — one from a group of scholars, policy thinkers, and activists, the other from members of Congress — have echoed those recommendations. Yet there is no sign the administration is paying attention. Indeed, nearly 15 months in, Obama has not even nominated a candidate for the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

As with human rights more broadly, there are both practical and philosophical reasons for promoting religious freedom. “First, the United States was founded on the premise that an attack on religious liberty is an attack on human dignity and an affront to justice. To be true to its history, the United States must stand for religious freedom at home and overseas. Second, countries with religious freedom are likely to be more politically stable.” Obama and his secretary of state have appointed diplomats on everything from AIDS to climate change, but not for religious freedom. Is it an aversion to recognizing that religion has a public dimension and is not simply “a private activity with few if any public-policy implications”? Or is it indicative of a foreign-policy approach that eschews promotion of American values, shrinks from challenging despots, and regards human rights as a hindrance to obtaining better relations with hostile regimes? Sadly, it seems the latter is more likely.

Obama appointed an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. Plainly, ingratiating the administration with the Muslim World is a priority. What is not a priority is the cause of religious freedom and human rights, more generally. Thomas Farr writes:

The United States’ 12-year-old policy of advancing religious freedom abroad has received a fair amount of attention in recent months. Two reports — one by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the other by the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — have recommended that President Barack Obama emphasize religious freedom in his foreign policy. Two nonpartisan letters — one from a group of scholars, policy thinkers, and activists, the other from members of Congress — have echoed those recommendations. Yet there is no sign the administration is paying attention. Indeed, nearly 15 months in, Obama has not even nominated a candidate for the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

As with human rights more broadly, there are both practical and philosophical reasons for promoting religious freedom. “First, the United States was founded on the premise that an attack on religious liberty is an attack on human dignity and an affront to justice. To be true to its history, the United States must stand for religious freedom at home and overseas. Second, countries with religious freedom are likely to be more politically stable.” Obama and his secretary of state have appointed diplomats on everything from AIDS to climate change, but not for religious freedom. Is it an aversion to recognizing that religion has a public dimension and is not simply “a private activity with few if any public-policy implications”? Or is it indicative of a foreign-policy approach that eschews promotion of American values, shrinks from challenging despots, and regards human rights as a hindrance to obtaining better relations with hostile regimes? Sadly, it seems the latter is more likely.

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