[JURIST] The US Department of State (DOS) [official website] released its annual Report on International Religious Freedom [materials] Monday, criticizing Islamic countries for limiting religious expression. The report found that countries such as North Korea and Iran [JURIST news archives] have attempted to prevent religious defamation as a way to limit religious expression. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] said [transcript] that freedom of religion is essential not only in the US but in every society, and limiting an individual's right of expression reduces that freedom.
The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions. These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.In addition to North Korea and Iran, the report criticized Myanmar, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan. Assistant State Department Secretary Michael Posner [official profile] supported [press briefing] the views expressed by Clinton during his briefing. He added, "we are all mindful of the fact that people of deep faith throughout the world are driven by and motivated by their religious beliefs. ... And we want to discourage people who misuse that faith in a way that's going to undermine basic human rights."
Based on our own experience, we are convinced that the best antidote to intolerance is not the defamation of religion's approach of banning and punishing offensive speech, but rather, a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups, and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression.
In May, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) [official website] released [JURIST report] its annual report on worldwide religious freedoms. The USCIRF moved several countries criticized in this week's DOS report from its "watch list" to its list of "countries of particular concern" (CPC). In 2007, Iraq was added to the "watch list" [JURIST report] for the first time since the ouster of Saddam Hussein. That same year, the Chinese government rejected the report [JURIST report] as prejudiced.