USCIRF Appointee: Religious Freedom is Fundamental Right
Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest, was recently appointed by President Obama to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The USCIRF makes policy recommendations to the US government regarding “freedom of religion or belief abroad.”
In a recent column, Reese expounded on the 2014 USCIRF report (published before his appointment) and highlighted the USCIRF’s assertion that religious freedom is a “fundamental human right,” one that even the US doesn’t always get exactly right:
One frequent mistake is to equate freedom of religion with freedom of worship. Even some American policymakers have spoken of freedom of worship rather than freedom of religion.
Freedom of religion is much more encompassing. It “includes the rights of worship, observance, practice, expression, and teaching, broadly construed,” the 2014 USCIRF report explains.
While he uses some international examples in his article, Reese almost seems to have focused on a religious liberty issue that has recently arisen inside the United States:
Nor is religious freedom only about beliefs that you hold in your heart but don’t express. It also includes expressions intended to persuade another individual to change his or her religious beliefs or affiliation voluntarily.
All of these details are important because some societies speak of religious freedom as long as the believer is quiet and inactive. In this sense, freedom of religion goes hand in hand with freedom of speech, assembly and press.
The “keep it at home or inside the walls of the church” mantra has been raised by a few atheists in the US more than once. Frequent critic Michael “Mikey” Weinstein and his organization have also taken that view (while simultaneously describing as illegal the expression of beliefs during those same church services) — despite claiming to advocate for religious freedom.
The US commission even notes that states don’t have to be secular to support religious freedom,
“…provided that basic rights, including the individual right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief, are respected for all without discrimination.” If jobs or government benefits are denied to the adherents of a particular belief, then religious liberty has been violated.
Religious freedom is a right enjoyed by all Americans, and one that the US would evidently like to see enjoyed by all humans. The USCIRF, which focuses on international issues, accurately recognizes religious liberty is a human right, not an American constitutional one.