State Department Releases Annual Report Documenting Dire Global Religious Freedom Picture

June 28, 2024

By Jeremy Barker

On June 26, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain announced the release of the U.S. Department of State’s 2023 Report on International Religious Freedom

Issued annually, the report covers the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories throughout 2023 (the State Department released its list of religious freedom violators in December 2023). Secretary Blinken explained that the report aims to set a global standard for documenting violations of religious freedom, as well as efforts to promote this fundamental human right. 

Prepared through a collaborative effort of diplomats at embassies and consultants around the world, and with extensive engagement with representatives from civil society and religious communities, the report documents violations of religious freedom against individuals and communities from nearly every country of the world. 

The report runs thousands of pages, tragically reflecting the breadth of evidence of violent religious persecution and repression globally. As the headlines of just the past several weeks highlight, the picture is dire. Armed groups in Dagestan, Russia carried out a brutal attack that included targeting churches and a synagogue. An accusation of blasphemy spurred a mob lynching in Pakistan. Abductions and massacres of Nigerian Christians are ongoing, with villages and schools in Benue and Kaduna states the latest targets. As Secretary Blinken noted, “In every region, people continue to face religious-based violence, religious-based discrimination, both from governments and their fellow citizens. They may be shut out of schools, denied jobs, harassed, beaten, or worse.”

Defending and advancing religious freedom remains a foundational American principle grounded in the human dignity of every person. Building on the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act and the 2016 Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, international religious freedom is also a U.S. foreign policy priority. One important way this is demonstrated is through training of U.S. civil servants and foreign service officers. As the report indicates, the State Department provides regional religious freedom seminars and courses required for all ambassadors and deputy chiefs of mission/principal officers before they go overseas (see Appendix E in the report).

Alongside other forms of diplomatic engagement, these training efforts are vital to equip diplomats with the tools to understand and navigate the dynamics of a decidedly religious world. 

The State Department’s Report on International Religious Freedom and U.S. international religious freedom policy more broadly represent a robust, even if still inadequate, approach to protecting the dignity of every person; and as Ambassador Hussain said, it highlights steps for “how each of us can contribute to the work of ending dehumanization and making religious freedom a reality for everyone.” 

Jeremy P. Barker, Associate Vice President, International Strategies