Following last week’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State, Rev. Susan Hayward discusses the worldwide uptick in religious discrimination in recent years—which particularly impacts minority communities—and how religion shapes conflict and peace around the world.

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Full Transcript

Tim (Host): The Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, this week was speaking in Washington D.C. at the Department of Justice. A religious freedom summit, among other things. Here's what he said.

Jeff Sessions: I am announcing our next step. The Religious Liberty Task Force to be co-chaired by the Associate Attorney General, Jesse, and the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, Beth. The Task Force will help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance by ensuring that all Justice Department components, and we got a lot of components around the country, are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations.

Tim (Host): Obviously the United States, only one part of the global issue of religious freedom. It is religious freedom week, and it is for that reason we have Susan Hayward with us. United States Institute of Peace senior advisor on religion and inclusive societies. Tweeting @SusieOHayward. Susan, welcome. Thank you for being here today.

Susan: Thank you Tim, it's great to be here.

Tim (Host): Talk about the rights as you know are enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of HR for people to believe and practice freely. Discuss what that declaration says.

Susan: Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right for people of all faiths to believe and practice their faith freely, to choose their own religion, to choose to not practice a religion and to do all of that without fear of persecution by the government or persecution by social hostilities by communities around them.

Tim (Host): That is a declaration. What is the reality?

Susan: The reality is that, around the world, about over 80% of the global population exists in environments where they face either government restriction to practice their religion freely or they face high or very high levels of social hostilities because of their religious identity. Those are numbers that are offered by the Pew Research Center, which has tracked an uptick in religious persecution worldwide.

Tim (Host):  Are there particular sects that are most subject to or victimized by this discrimination?

Susan: In the two ways that it's tracked, there’s government restrictions and social hostilities, it manifests sometimes in partnership and sometimes not in partnership around the world. For example, China is the country where you see the highest level of government restrictions. Whereas, India is a context where you don't have as much, necessarily have as much government restriction, but you have high levels of social hostility. Both are metrics. Those effect communities of all faiths. What we are seeing, not with just minorities, who are those who face the most acute forms of persecution, often. Although, we also see people in majority faiths who are persecuted because they can hold unorthodox views, or again, those of no faith.

Susan: What we've seen recently, in an uptick especially affecting Muslims in Europe, for example, who are facing either government restrictions, or they're facing social hostilities by nationalist political movements that are targeting them.

Tim (Host): How does this discrimination manifest itself? Is it through job discrimination? Is it through some other kinds of measure that is either government or ... as you mentioned, there is government and there is also social hostility. Maybe you can tell us how you usually see this manifest itself?

Susan: It's both/and. What we see are governments enforcing greater oversight and restrictions on religious speech and practice. What we're seeing in a lot of places around the world. Some of it is in response to forms of violent extremism that operate within religious bases, or that use religious rhetoric in order to justify violence. That particularly affects minority communities. But again, after the [inaudible 00:04:32], religious beliefs that are not in keeping with their own religious vision. As a response to that, governments are exerting more control over religious practice and speech under the guise of security. The unfortunate thing is that, that can have a counterproductive effect, because as governments exert more control over religious spaces, that can fuel resentment and anti-state violence by groups.

Susan: We're also seeing, worldwide, the social hostility. An increase in forms of prejudice and forms of actually violent attacks against ... that affects minorities, in particularly acute ways, again.

Tim (Host): Again, with us, Susan Hayward. United States Institute of Peace senior advisor and religion and inclusive societies. I go back to the idea of government discrimination, and it has been the case throughout history, that often governments are formed based on a religious viewpoint of a society or a country. I mean divine right of Kings, et cetera, and I wonder if modern democracy is changing that and how much that is a part of the discrimination. In other words, if there is an institutional adopted religion, if you will, or even if it's a de-facto government religion, what effect does that have on discrimination in some of these countries?

Susan: For about 40% of the countries around the world have either an official religion, or they have a preferred religion. Some of those countries include democracies. So, that includes countries in Europe, the U.K., and others. According to International Law, it's not necessarily a problem to have an official religion so long as those who don't belong to that official religion are not persecuted or restricted because of that. It can create challenges in practice, because of part of a broader definition of religious freedom also ensures non-discrimination based on religious identity. So, ensuring equal access to government service, to government support, and so on, for those who may not be a part of the official religion can be more of a challenge in those places.

Susan: There's in that religious freedom ministerial that happened last week that was convened by Secretary Pompeo and Vice President Pence and Ambassador of the National Religious Freedom Forum, Brownback. At the conclusion of that ministerial, they issued a Potomac Declaration Plan of Action to advance international religious freedom. One of the things they noted in that plan of action was the need for those countries that do have an official religion or preferential religion, to ensure that the ways in which, for example, different communities register with the government that they belong to the unofficial religion is not diverting from or create undue barriers for them to be able to establish their own places of worship and be able to practice freely.

Susan: This continues to be a debate within liberal democratic systems. Especially those that have an official religion. How to do that in a way that doesn't restrict people who may not belong to that official religion.

Tim (Host): Just, in general terms Susan, if you could as we get ready to wrap this up, is organized religion on the rise or on the wane, worldwide?

Susan: Well, it depends on where you look. Overall, there is ... Over 84% of the world's population still identifies within a religious tradition. In some places around the world, you have seen a decline overall, in the past two decades in people’s affiliation with official religion or with a traditional religious institution, but despite that, religion continues, and in some places, religion is even more thriving than it was before. Sometimes, in response to issues of globalization and violence and so on, that create insecurity, people are returning to religious institutions in order to find some new methods to deal with the instability within the global system, generally.

Tim (Host): Susan, I appreciate you spending time with us in POTUS today. Thank you.

Susan: Absolutely. Have a great day.

Tim (Host): You too. Susan Hayward. United States Institute of Peace senior advisor on religion and inclusive society. Another issue that we'd like to get into, it's not the shining object that you're seeing on TV, but it is an important one. Today, or this week is Religious Freedom Week, and we wanted to give you the globalist perspective, and Susan was here to join us to do that. She's Tweeting, by the way, @SusieO ... S-U-S-I-E and the letter O-H-A-Y-W-A-R-D.

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