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  • Writer's pictureKnox Thames

Maintaining International Religious Freedom as a Central Tenet of US National Security

Pleased to co-author with Peter Mandaville this United States Institute of Peace report on "Maintaining International Religious Freedom as a Central Tenet of US National Security."

In an era of increasing divisiveness at home and violent religious persecution abroad, we convened a working group to address ways to protect US international religious freedom (IRF) promotion from partisan divisions. The working group included experts and former officials from across the religious and political spectrum. Their discussions informed our recommendations on how to protect IRF from worsening political polarization and building bipartisan consensus around IRF's importance.

We concluded that international religious freedom "will only remain a central pillar of US foreign and security policy if it receives bipartisan support." With elections on the horizon, we made several recommendations to inoculate the international work from domestic partisanship.

Toward Common Ground: Recommendations for a Nonpartisan Approach
  1. Recognize key differences between domestic debates and repression abroad and assert IRF as a core American value and central pillar of US foreign and security policy.

  2. Ground and explain IRF with broadly shared, cross-partisan policy priorities connected to advancing peace, stability, and national security.

  3. Explore common challenges and needs of diverse at-risk communities to enable broader cooperation across advocacy agendas.

  4. Use IRF policy tools (CPC, SWL) to strengthen democracies across the globe committed to human rights, the rule of law, and political pluralism.

  5. Balance the use of sanctions with community-level efforts to cultivate mutual respect and pluralism.

  6. Integrate the work of the IRF office and ambassador at large with core State Department functions, particularly those bureaus and offices whose missions overlap with IRF.

  7. Continue strategic religious engagement as a core function with its own office.

  8. Continue to support the religious freedom ministerial meetings and the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance.

  9. Make a concerted effort to model bipartisanship within the relatively small community of IRF officials, advocates, and practitioners.

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