Written by Don Byrd

A NYTimes editorial today rightly praises the efforts of recent U.S. administrations, including the Trump administration, to promote religious freedom around the world. “Even President Trump’s fiercest critics,” the piece begins, “can find something to applaud” in the initiative. But the moral authority of the program is being eroded, it goes on to warn, by politicization, religious favoritism, and hypocrisy in policy and decision-making within the current administration.

Here is an excerpt, which takes as its starting point the recent – and in many ways promising – State Department conference, hosting officials and advocates from more than 80 countries to discuss the importance of protecting religious liberty:

Despite his own strict Catholic leanings, Sam Brownback, the ambassador for international religious freedom, said the goal was to protect religious freedom for all, “not to say we favor this faith or that faith.”

Yet, the event, headlined by Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, was clearly meant to appeal most to the evangelicals who are among the president’s most fervent political supporters, reflecting a selectivity that is antithetical to the very concept of religious freedom.

One major focus was a demand for the release of Andrew Brunson, an American Christian pastor held by Turkey for nearly two years on bogus charges of complicity in the 2016 aborted coup. Under pressure from evangelicals, Mr. Trump earlier this month imposed sanctions on Turkey, shaking its fragile economy, in an effort to secure Mr. Brunson’s release. The president has been silent about 19 other detained Americans, including a NASA scientist who is Muslim.

Religious freedom is a foundational human right.There is no true freedom without soul freedom, the absence of which, either in law or in reality, is a key indicator of oppression.  While the United States has long honored, exemplified, and aspired to the values inherent in religious freedom, our ability to persuade and inspire others is tied to our moral authority to do so.

As the NYTimes piece suggests, when our government acts out of a “narrow vision” of our first freedom, the damage done to the cause of religious liberty at home and around the world cannot be fixed by grandiose rhetoric alone.

Read the whole thing.