Running list of things the religious freedom community needs to speak out on

My readers may remember I said I’d start a regular International Religious Freedom digest, collecting reports of religious repression around the world. That fizzled out. It was partly because of the distractions of summer, but also because of my frustrations with the international religious freedom community.

I’ve been a part of this circle since I ran the Pew Research Center’s project on international religious freedom, and defended the issue against fellow progressives who saw it as a smokescreen for conservative Christian values. I found this community to be diverse — including non-Christians and the non-religious — and sincere.

But I’ve struggled to keep up this defense in the age of Donald Trump. The IRF community was openly critical of the Obama Administration for its apparent lack of commitment to religious freedom, but has had very little bad to say about the Trump Administration. Some of this may be because the Administration keeps promising international religious freedom will be a priority, and holds events like the recent IRF Ministerial (a week-long summit). But many policies by the Trump Administration clash with the values of religious freedom, and there has been very little criticism from these advocates.

I’ve written about this at The Globe Post, the Berkley Forum, and on Medium and Twitter, and talked about this with RNS, so you can go there for more of my thoughts. And I’ve presented alternative approaches to protecting religious minorities with the Center for American Progress. But I’ve struggled to gain traction. Conservative religious freedom advocates seem to ignore these concerns, even when I try to honestly engage with them via Twitter. And many progressives don’t see this as a crucial issue, probably because they perceive it as a partisan conservative cause (which it increasingly is becoming).

So I thought I’d start a running list of areas where the IRF community is not pushing back enough, in the hopes that they will realize the value of high-profile meetings with the Trump Administration are outweighed by the harm being done to their cause. And hopefully progressives will see that this could be a progressive issue if we engaged on it. I also would welcome pushback from IRF advocates who think I’m being unfair.

Without further ado, here it is. There’s a big backlog, so I may think of more examples, and I’ll update this as needed:

  1. Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration during the 2016 campaign.
  2. Trump’s implementation of a ban on Muslim immigration once elected.
  3. Repeated promises to help Middle Eastern Christians with little results.
  4. Deportation of Christians facing persecution in their countries of origin.
  5. Listing Pakistan as a country of particular concern for religious repression with little follow-up.
  6. Hiring people with ties to anti-Muslim groups in high-level posts.
  7. Nominating people with anti-Muslim views for important positions.
  8. Appointing conservative evangelicals people with little IRF experience to IRF bodies.
  9. An IRF Ambassador who pushed for the release of an anti-Muslim activist, and hasn’t explained why.
  10. Silence on Russia’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  11. (Added 8/13/18) The Trump Administration admitted only 23 Christians in 2018.
  12. (Added 9/18/18) The Trump Administration to cap refugee admission at the lowest figure ever.
  13. (Added 9/25/18) Donald Trump called Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, “terrific.” North Korea is one of the most repressive countries in the world, and has singled out Christians for persecution in several high-profile cases.


International Relations prof writing on Middle East, religion and politics, US Christianity. Author of Cambridge UP book on Islam&counterterrorism.

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