Over 100 advocates urge Senate to designate religious freedom a ‘fundamental right’

By The Christian Post |
United States Capitol
United States Capitol | Louis Velazquez | Unsplash

Over 100 religious freedom advocates and groups from various religious backgrounds have called on Congress to affirm religious freedom as a fundamental right by passing a resolution to recognize the global threats to religious liberty.

Bipartisan Senate Resolution 569, introduced by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, aims to integrate religious freedom into U.S. foreign policy and address worldwide violations.

ADF International was among 113 religious freedom advocates and organizations under the International Religious Freedom Roundtable that signed onto a letter sent to U.S. Senate leaders urging them to pass the resolution "quickly."

"We have seen firsthand the increasing threats to religious freedom around the world described in the resolution," the letter reads. 

"From ongoing genocides and mass atrocities perpetrated against religious minority groups, to individuals imprisoned and exiled for their faith and beliefs, from unjust restrictions on religious gatherings and practices, to the destruction of religious sites, these threats against both people of faith and no faith are not only grave violations of fundamental human rights, but also lead to instability, insecurity, and a lack of economic development."

Introduced last month, Senate Resolution 569 seeks to establish religious freedom as a core human right and a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.

Spearheaded by Sens. Coons, James Lankford, R-Okla., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., the resolution proposes using diplomatic and sanctions tools to hold violators accountable. The advocates say the resolution "paints an accurate and disturbing portrayal of the religious freedom situation in too many countries. 

"Because of that situation, the resolution's policy recommendations are vital: promoting religious freedom as an 'utmost priority' in U.S. foreign policy, holding violators accountable using all available diplomatic and sanctions tools, working with global partners, and expanding support for leaders and activists working to protect religious freedom worldwide," the letter reads. 

ADF International's Legal Counsel for Global Religious Freedom Sean Nelson cited widespread violations against faith communities.

"We are grateful to the members of the U.S. Congress who have proposed this vital legislation, and we are hopeful that U.S. influence on this important matter will encourage much needed change throughout the world," he said in a statement.

Among other countries, the resolution specifically mentions religious freedom abuses in Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Iran and Russia. 

In Nigeria, the resolution criticizes the "government's enforcement of blasphemy laws embedded in Nigeria's criminal and Shari'a codes" that has resulted "in the arbitrary detainment and imprisonment of those who express their religious identity."

Violence has greatly impacted Nigerian Christian communities in recent years, with estimates showing thousands of Christians were killed for their faith last year, including targeted attacks in Plateau State during Christmas.

Last month, militants armed with AK-47s attacked a school in Nigeria's Kaduna state, kidnapping at least 287 students, marking the second large-scale abduction in Nigeria within a week and underscoring a deepening security crisis in the region.

The resolution criticizes "religiously discriminatory policies" in India that target "religious conversion, interfaith relationships, the wearing of hijabs, and cow slaughter" implemented at the national, state and local levels. Those laws "negatively impact the livelihoods of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and Adivasis."

In January, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom criticized the U.S. State Department for failing to designate India and Nigeria as "countries of particular concern" for tolerating or engaging in severe violations of religious freedom. 

In Nicaragua, the government has targeted religious leaders who have spoken out against the government. Bishop Rolando Álvarez, sentenced to 26 years for his advocacy before his release and exile in January, represents the broader crackdown on religious figures in the country.

In Pakistan, the resolution notes the severe challenges faced by religious minorities, including killings, forced conversions and sexual violence.

In Russia, the resolution says "laws on terrorism and extremism are used to target religious minorities such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, and members of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church for their beliefs."

"No person should be punished or persecuted for their faith, and we pray for the day when all can worship and live out their faith freely," Nelson said.

Originally published by The Christian Post