What They Say And Do: Four Indicators of Religious Freedom Violations

October 11, 2019

RFI Executive Vice-President Eric Patterson spoke to foreign dignitaries on the topic, “Countries of Particular Opportunity: Advancing International Religious Freedom to 2030,” at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. He focused attention on four indicators that demonstrate violations of religious freedom—framed in terms of “what they say and do.”

The United States and other governments, Patterson explained, should take a national security lens to the issue of global religious persecution because it is often America’s enemies who are the most repressive toward religious people. Using models from international relations scholars, such as Stephen Walt, Patterson urged diplomats to ask four sets of questions regarding religious liberty:

  • What does the respective regime’s ideology have to say about religion and freedom? Is there a cultural majority ideology that represses religious freedom?

  • How does the government in question treat its own citizens when it comes to religious liberty?

  • How does the government in question treat its neighbors on issues of religion and religious liberty?

  • How does the government in question behave on the international stage? Is it supportive, passive, or antagonistic to religious liberty?

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union would have ranked poorly on all four indicators, as does North Korea today. Taking these considerations into account while reflecting on the past decade, one can see progress in a country like Vietnam but severe decline in a country like China. Patterson then turned to consider where it might be possible to forecast a positive trajectory on these dimensions in the next decade. Among several key regions, Patterson highlighted one country from each with the potential to blossom: Cuba, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, and Egypt.

Patterson’s remarks built on an article he published in 2013 in Review of Faith and International Affairs titled, What They Say and Do: Religious Freedom as a National Security Lens.” He delivered the remarks as part of the keynote panel that included Daniel Nadel, with the U.S. Department of State, as well as Professors Cole Durham and Brett Scharffs of Brigham Young University. The Law and Religion Symposium is an annual event hosted by Brigham Young University.