If you’re like me, you typically associate national security with diplomacy, intelligence, and, of course, the military. That’s why I was intrigued by a recent conference at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. The conference was called “Religious Freedom and National Security Policy.”
“Under what conditions,” the speakers were asked, “might greater U.S. support for religious liberty abroad help to reduce political instability, religious radicalism and terrorist violence?”
On this question, they all agreed that religious freedom is a bellwether, the canary in the coalmine, if you will. For example, University of Texas professor Will Imboden, formerly of the National Security Council, showed how any erosion in a country’s religious freedom invariably signals the erosion of all other liberties and human rights. Governments that are not committed to religious liberty become increasingly intolerant and coercive, insisting that they have a monopoly on truth that must be forced on others.
Imboden went on to say that not only is such a government a threat to its own people, it becomes a threat to its neighbors, growing increasingly aggressive and belligerent.
Without religious freedom, democracy suffers, economic stagnation becomes inevitable. But in countries where religious freedom thrives, so does democracy and economic vitality.
Some conferees suggested efforts by the United States to spread religious freedom amounted to cultural imperialism. And still others said it raises the question of hypocrisy. After all, the Manhattan Declaration clearly states, religious freedom is increasingly endangered in this country. So who are we to be forcing it on others?
Well, that’s all wrong, responded Pauletta Otis, Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University. Religious freedom in America is a work in progress. Sure, we’ve disagreed repeatedly about its scope and application. And we’ve disagreed loudly, publicly, and vigorously. But we also disagree without violence and bloodshed—we abide by the rule of law. And we rightly resist infringements upon religious liberty. That, she insisted, is something the world needs to see.
So how then do we promote religious freedom and build a more secure world? First of all, said Eric Patterson, Assistant Director of the Berkley Center, the U.S. government—at every level—must show a consistent, firm commitment to religious freedom.
The president, vice-president, and cabinet secretaries need to be clear voices for religious freedom, engaging leaders and the peoples of the world. And they need to insist that countries that violate the religious freedom of their citizens live up to the international agreements most of them have already signed.
But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, the administration seems to be shying away from freedom of religion. Whether by accident or in a deliberate attempt to appease the likes of China and the Islamic world, it prefers instead to talk about “freedom of worship.” And as I’ve said before, “freedom of worship”—the ability to pray as you like in private—is a far cry from freedom of religion, the freedom to live out your faith in all areas of life.
But instead of enhancing our stature in the world, retreating from our historical commitment to religious freedom ironically, ends up undermining that most vital role of government, which is to safeguard our national security.