The most severe abuses of religious freedom occur under authoritarian governments, according to the State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom released today.
“Such governments seek to control all religious thought and expression as part of a more comprehensive determination to control all aspects of political and civic life,” the report notes.
Such regimes “regard some religious groups as enemies of the state because they hold religious beliefs that may challenge loyalty to the rulers,” abusing security concerns “to repress peaceful religious practice.”
In Vietnam, for instance, the government has harassed Catholic worshippers and the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, impeding the operation of UBCV charitable activities and restricting the movement of UBCV leaders.
The report surveys the legal status of religious liberty in some 200 states and territories.
Religious freedom has been described as the canary in the coal mine for gauging the health of a democracy.
One leading analyst has called on the Obama administration to appoint an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom “capable of mainstreaming this issue into democracy promotion, counter-terrorism and public diplomacy,” following the “excellent work” of the National Endowment for Democracy in this field.