flagsWritten by Don Byrd

The State Department yesterday released the International Religious Freedom Report for 2014. In his remarks at the release of the report, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein explained the purpose of the report and the most significant trends it reveals:

[I]n far too many countries people face daunting, alarming, growing challenges on account of their beliefs. In countries where once proud traditions of multi-faith cooperation, positive coexistence was the norm, we have witnessed growing numbers of religious minorities being driven out of their historic homelands. And in too many countries, prisoners of conscience suffer cruel punishment for their religious beliefs and practices. This report gives a voice to all those around the world who are seeking to peacefully live their lives in accordance with their conscience or religious beliefs.

A number of trend lines stood out in this year’s report. The first one . . . is the single greatest challenge to religious freedom worldwide, or certainly the single greatest emerging challenge, and that is the abhorrent acts of terror committed by those who falsely claim the mantle of religion to justify their wanton destruction.

In both Iraq and Syria, Daesh has sought to eliminate anyone daring to deviate from its own violent and destructive interpretation of Islam. Targets include non-Muslims, Shia, Sunnis alike. It has displaced individuals from their homes based on their religions or ethnicity. Similarly, Boko Haram has killed thousands in both indiscriminate violence and deliberate attacks on Christians and Muslims who oppose its radical ideology. It has subjected the peoples of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, to unspeakable acts of terror, sexual violence, abductions, and fatal attacks on places of worship.

Secretary Kerry also mentioned this in his remarks: increasingly, the most significant threats to religious liberty are not from repressive governments – though they also remain a substantial problem worldwide – but from non-government actors who claim a religious justification for their violent acts of terror.

If you have watched the news during the last couple of years, you may not have needed a report to tell you that. But the State Department’s comprehensive report places this development in a helpful, if horrifying, context. The depth and breadth of the suffering around the world at the hands of those who claim religion is devastating and heartbreaking.

Browse the 2014 report here.