That resolution was passed this year, in place of another favored by hard-line Islamic countries that would have declared criticism of Islam to be criminal defamation.
The successful resolution is titled “Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief.” It urges all governments to promote tolerance of all believers, to promote “a wider knowledge of different religions and beliefs,” to counter religious discrimination, anti-Semitism and “Islamophobia.”
The deal encourages and helps activists in many countries to establish religious freedom, said Ambassador Michael Kozak, the U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
The Department of State gathering was an off-the-record meeting of experts from roughly 30 countries. Attendees discussed legal and regulatory measures to promote religious freedom and free speech.
The three-day meeting was impacted by U.S. domestic politics. For example, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee was allowed present a claim, while a Christian group, the Traditional Values Coalition, was excluded from the event and from preparatory discussions. The coalition’s president, Andrea Lafferty, was briefly detained just prior to Clinton’s speech.
The meeting, and Clinton’s speech, Lafferty told TheDC, downplayed the large-scale persecution and killing of Christians in Islamic countries, including Sudan, Iran, Pakistan and Egypt.
When asked if religious freedom was being advanced in Muslim-majority countries by the administration’s current foreign policy — which encourages the removal or dictators but does not condemn Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood — Kozak said “time will tell.”
But the diplomatic debate that led to the 16/18 resolution is driven by Islamic advocates.
In orthodox Islam, there is little to no room for religious debate outside the boundaries of tradition. In several Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, people are executed for blasphemy, heresy and apostasy, which is the act of abandoning one’s religion.
Islamic advocates say the harsh punishments are mandated by Islamic texts and local culture, which do not fully separate mosque and government, and often view religious dissent as betrayal.
Those views are markedly different from Christian texts, which promise a loving God, mandate the separation of church and state, and expect moral freedom.
Clinton’s speech reflected those Christian themes. American believers argue — but do not demand — submission from their rivals, she said. Instead, “we trust that over time, if [our rivals] are wrong, they will come to see the errors of their ways.”
In contrast, she continued, there’s reason for concern when “people are not confident in their religious beliefs to the point where they do not fear speech that raises questions about religion.”
Her speech included both new and old themes in American religion.
She argued that “truly at the root of every major religion is a connection with the divinity, is an acceptance and a recognition that we are all walking a path together.”
That claim of religious universalism is not widely shared by Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist clerics. For example, Islamic clerics say the Bible’s Old Testament is really a Muslim text that is misunderstood by Christians and is distorted by Jews. Similarly, most Christians say the Christian God is guided by love and reason, and rewards faith from free people, while most Muslim clerics say Allah requires submission and accepts forced conversions.
But Clinton also repeated the traditional American Christian view that human rights “are rights endowed by our creator within each of us… [and] we have special obligations to protect these God-given rights.”
That’s a markedly more traditional view than that held by her boss, President Barack Obama.
In November, for example, he excluded Christianity from his Thanksgiving message, and suggested that Americans’ rights to freely speak, vote, assemble and own property depend on the approval of other Americans. “No matter how tough things are right now, we still give thanks for that most American of blessings — the chance to determine our own destiny.” (RELATED: Democrat leaders merge church and party)
Throughout her speech, Clinton returned to the argument that religion requires freedom. And she repeatedly, although diplomatically, prodded Islamic governments to tolerate other faiths. Without citing any countries, she directed her criticism at Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where laws actively penalize or bar rival religions.
“We know governments which fear religion can be quite oppressive, but we know that societies that think there is only one religion can be equally oppressive.”