Freedom of religion, freedom of belief, and freedom of expression are at the heart of international human rights agreements, just as they are at the heart of the U.S. Constitution. All persons deserve to be able to freely select their beliefs, to practice their religion or lack thereof as they choose so long as no harm is done to others, and to engage in public discussion and debate on religion. The U.S. government has both a moral and a legal duty to defend and protect these rights around the world.
U.S. diplomatic staff can and should work with secular non-governmental organizations (NGOs) just as they work with religious NGOs when abroad. NGOs can often help communicate with people on the ground in foreign countries – including persecuted dissenters, their families, friends, and legal experts. An active network of secular NGOs is committed to protecting freedom of conscience and speech. Such NGOs include the Secular Coalition for America, the Center for Inquiry, International Humanist and Ethical Union, and the American Humanist Association. These organizations often work with religious groups to achieve common goals.
The U.S. government is the largest single financial supporter of the UN, contributing roughly one quarter of its budget. Unfortunately, many of the UN’s key human rights enforcement mechanisms lack funding. As elected officials of a government that supports the UN, U.S. lawmakers must help ensure effective implementation of programs that promote freedom of belief, religion, and expression.
POLICY RECOMMENDATION: The U.S. government should apply political pressure whenever possible to countries violating their international human rights obligations