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Freedom of Speech and Religion Must Be Balanced, Clinton Says
(Religious tolerance also promotes national stability)

By Jane Morse
Staff Writer

Washington — There must be a sensible balance between freedom of religion and freedom of speech, says Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“An individual’s ability to practice his or her religion has no bearing on others’ freedom of speech,” Clinton said at a special briefing October 26 marking the release of the 2009 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

“The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions,” she said. “These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.”

The best antidote to intolerance, Clinton said, is a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, government outreach to minority religious groups, and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

“Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion. I strongly disagree,” she said, referring to efforts by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to advance within the United Nations the concept of “defamation of religions.” (The OIC is an intergovernmental organization comprising 57 states with significant Muslim populations.)

“The United States,” the secretary said, “will always seek to counter negative stereotypes of individuals based on their religion and will stand against discrimination and persecution.”

Freedom of religion is a founding principle of the United States — but it is a universal value, not just an American value, Clinton said. “It is a freedom guaranteed to all people in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” she said.


According to Clinton, freedom of religion “allows nations that uphold it to become more stable, secure and prosperous.” It was a message echoed by Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

In his introduction to the report, he writes: “Authoritarian regimes that repress religious groups and ideas in the name of stability create the very conditions that subvert their stated goals. Repression radicalizes. Coercive and arbitrary interference in peaceful religious practice can harden resentment against the state and lead some to separatism or insurgency.”

Linking extremism and terrorism, Posner cautioned that “governments must ensure that their policies on religion do not have negative international consequences.”

The United States, Clinton said, is expanding programs that work to bridge the divide between religious groups. “These important efforts build on the shared values and common concerns of faith communities to sow the seeds of lasting peace,” she said.

Although the report shines a spotlight on abuses by states and societies, it also seeks to draw attention to positive steps many countries and organizations are taking to promote freedom and interreligious harmony, Clinton said.

In her remarks, Clinton commended the leadership of the Philippines in the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace at the United Nations, as well as Jordan’s role in initiating the “A Common Word” dialogue and many other international and domestic initiatives.

This year’s report contains assessments of 198 countries and territories, making it one of the most comprehensive reports available. Eight countries “of particular concern” were identified by the State Department as having serious religious freedom violations. They are: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. Twenty-nine countries had violations “of substantial interest.” Twenty-one countries — some of which are also on the list “of particular concern” or “of substantial interest” — were found to have made specific improvements in religious freedom conditions.

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 designates the promotion of religious freedom for all persons as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. The act also provides the mandate for the annual religious freedom report produced by the State Department. U.S. embassies around the world gather information for the annual report from a variety of sources, including government and religious officials, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, religious groups and academics.

Learn more:

U.S. Emphasizes Freedom of Expression at Human Rights Council ( )

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site:

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