Although religious liberty is never likely to be central to American foreign policy, it joins with political and civil liberties as worthy of U.S. government support. Washington should both do better at home and unapologetically back the same freedoms abroad.
There also are practical reasons to be concerned about the status of religious believers in other societies. Religious liberty truly is the first freedom. If a government is unwilling to respect freedom of conscience in addressing the transcendent, it isn’t likely to respect political dissent and civil liberties. Moreover, societies with intense hostility toward other religious faiths are more likely incubators of virulent intolerance, hatred of the other, and support for terrorism. Like the canary in the mine, assaults on religious liberty provide an early warning to dangerous ideological and theological currents which could explode outward in violence.
Underlying religious hostility also creates an incendiary environment for American government intervention. Washington’s perceived war on Islam—constantly bombing, invading, and/or occupying Muslim states, backing Muslim governments which oppress their own people, and supporting other governments which war against and occupy Muslim populations—creates a political hothouse in which terrorism thrives. That is an important (though by no means the only) reason for the U.S. to draw back from endless war in the Middle East and Central Asia.
President Donald Trump sought to advance religious liberty, mostly to cement the loyalty of his evangelical supporters. Democrats also would benefit at the polls by again making religious liberty a bipartisan issue.
More important, though, soon‐to‐be President Biden should support freedom for the faithful on principle—it is a basic human right that deserves U.S. support. Especially since doing so helps promote greater human understanding and diffuse social conflict, which often flares into violence and terrorism. Upholding religious liberty should top the agenda of every president.