by Jorge Gomez • 6 min read
Throughout the past several weeks, we’ve all witnessed the horrific scenes in Afghanistan.
We’ve seen heartbreaking images of Afghan citizens clinging desperately to U.S. military aircraft as they fear being left behind to face the stunning Taliban takeover, followed by the humanitarian disaster of thousands of Americans trapped behind enemy lines.
The tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan raises some serious questions: What’s the state of America’s military leadership? What does it say about our national security? What will America’s role as a world leader look like in the future?
These are all pressing issues that must be addressed. But there’s another equally critical question our foreign policy experts should consider:
What does the Afghanistan crisis say about the state of religious freedom abroad, as well as here at home in the U.S.?
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) documented for years the precarious condition of religious freedom in Afghanistan. But after the Taliban’s takeover, any small hope for religious liberty in the country disappeared almost overnight. Reports from the international human rights community quickly surfaced, noting a renewed persecution of Christians, subjugation of women and oppression of any religious minority who defies the Taliban’s rule.
As millions of Afghans lose their rights and any hope of lasting freedom to the Taliban’s tyranny, all Americans—especially our nation’s leaders—must recognize that a foreign policy that doesn’t put religious freedom at the center is one that’s ultimately doomed to fail.
Below, we’ll explore why making religious freedom a foreign policy priority is essential not just to America’s strength abroad, but also critical in protecting this First Freedom on our shores.
Why Foreign Policy Should Include Religious Freedom as a Priority
Assessing the state of religious liberty in Afghanistan, the United Nations has already warned that “ethnic and religious minorities are also at risk of violence and repression, given previous patterns of serious violations under Taliban rule and reports of killings and targeted attacks in recent months.”
For Americans, this is a sobering reminder that religious liberty is something special, unique and worth defending.
Let’s not forget: Living out one’s faith peaceably and without the fear of government repression is something that we consider a right. But for hundreds of millions of people across the globe, it’s a privilege to profess or act according to their faith—to the point that they risk losing their lives for doing so.
That’s why advancing religious freedom should be a core part of our foreign policy. Failing to incorporate this First Freedom in our international affairs and strategy would be to deny one of the central values and principles that America represents.
Millions of people worldwide look to the U.S. as a safe haven, especially those who face persecution due to their religious beliefs. More than two centuries after our nation’s founding, we endure as one of the world’s leading protectors of the unalienable right of all to live out their faith.
But America’s longstanding reputation as a beacon of freedom isn’t merely based on being a refuge or a sanctuary where people can flee to find shelter from oppression.
A big part of what makes America exceptional on the global stage is our commitment to making religious liberty one of our nation’s greatest exports. Indeed, maintaining our stature as a world leader demands that we not selfishly reserve for ourselves these fundamental liberties.
Being a force of freedom around the world requires military might, diplomatic savvy, strong presidential leadership and many other factors. But alongside these, America’s foreign policy leaders and ambassadors must ensure that other nations also respect religious freedom as a God-given, unalienable human right—a prerequisite necessary for any country to be truly free.
A Wave of Hate and Hostility on Its Way to America?
While the Taliban’s takeover is expected to lead to heinous restrictions and crackdowns on Afghan citizens, the reality is that religious oppression isn’t limited only to Afghanistan.
Religious liberty and people of faith are under heavy attack at a global scale. In 2020, the Pew Research Center reported government restrictions on religion reached the highest point in over a decade. From 2007 to 2017, the data showed a 30% spike in countries worldwide with severe religious restrictions. Just last year, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted that over two thirds of people around the world live in places that are extremely challenged with the absence of religious freedom.
And it’s undeniable there’s been a rippling effect in even the freest of nations. America itself is feeling the aftershocks of a worldwide rise in religious hostility. Pew reports that governmental restrictions on religious activity in the U.S. have more than doubled from 2007 to 2017.
With attacks on religious freedom at an all-time high, it’s of critical importance for the U.S. to take proactive leadership to safeguard religious freedom worldwide. Because by doing so, we’re simultaneously ensuring that we are protecting the First Freedom of all Americans right here at home.