‘Starr’-spangled duty: U.S. should defend religious freedom around globe

In light of the Pope’s recent visit to the U.S., Baylor president and chancellor Ken Starr wrote a guest column for USA Today concerning international religious freedom.

“We are witnessing a tragic, global crisis in religious freedom — one characterized outside the West by persecution, violence and terrorism, and inside the West by a receding understanding of why religious liberty is necessary for human and social flourishing,” he wrote.

Starr directed his words both at the Pope and the American people. Starr is correct on the issue of religious freedom, not only as a founding principle for this country, but as a fundamental issue to human life.

The world as a whole has not progressed in the sense that America has with its religious liberty. Starr cites statistics from Pew Research Center to affirm this claim. More than three-quarters of the world’s people live in countries where restrictions on religion are severe, Pew reports.

Religious freedom is an issue in every hemisphere of the world. The battle over religious freedom has been an issue for centuries and does not seem to be ending anytime soon. It may never be completely solved. However, we have every reason to demand religious freedom for all people.

Without religious freedom, Starr writes, developing democracies remain unstable, and religious terrorism continues to flourish.

Religion can be a weapon for evil or a remedy for good. Horrific acts done in the name of religion are carried out by individuals, as well as entire nations, every day. We cannot turn a blind eye to these evil men that persecute others for their beliefs.

As Americans, we live in a country that upholds the freedom of religion as a fundamental right. This fundamental right is not exclusively American. Though we may be a nation that was founded with religious freedom in mind, we believe it is a principle that every person in this world deserves. Yes, religious freedom is in our Constitution. But it is an unalienable right that should be endowed to all men.

“Our founders dubbed religious freedom ‘the first freedom’ of the Constitution and the human soul,” Starr wrote. “It has enabled the flourishing of pluralism — that state of mutual respect and political harmony that exists even amid great differences of opinion regarding the common good.”

Even in America, religious freedom is something we should all actively defend. We cannot expect others to do the same if we aren’t upholding it ourselves.

With that said, we direct our focus to the men and women in Washington, D.C., who make decisions to better this country and directly affect it. As our leaders, they must demand religious liberty for all people on the grounds that it is an unalienable right for all people. One cannot be for democracy and not be for religious freedom.

Religious freedom is under attack everywhere. To all of us, it is our obligation as human beings to defend religious freedom everywhere we can. Religious persecution prohibits progress and robs people of their fundamental right to religious freedom. It is America’s best interest to ensure all people of religious freedom, both domestic and abroad.

We cannot expect struggling countries to flourish nor can we can expect to have a good relationship with these countries if there is a fundamental disagreement on how their people should be treated.