The budget presented by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R–WI) takes a positive view of religious freedom, calling for funding and reforms that advance protection of religious liberty here and abroad.
“The United States should promote freedom of religion or belief around the world, given the importance of religious freedom to human rights, economic development, stability, and democracy,” notes the Ryan budget, specifically recommending continued funding of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has played an important role in monitoring religious persecution around the world and helping guide U.S. public diplomacy to promote religious liberty as a fundamental human right.
In the face of increasing persecution of Christians, certain Muslim sects, and other religious minorities in many countries, the U.S. has an important responsibility to promote robust protections for religious freedom. As President Obama remarked at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast:
[We] believe in the inherent dignity of every human being—dignity that no earthly power can take away. And central to that dignity is freedom of religion—the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free from persecution and fear.
The profound importance of religious liberty to upholding other democratic freedoms, as evidenced in America’s own history, should be integrated into foreign diplomacy. Heritage’s Jennifer Marshall notes:
U.S. public diplomacy must convey to majority religious communities that religious freedom will continue to promote a positive and public role for religion. The American model of religious liberty includes a favorable view of religious practice, both private and public. Far from privatizing or marginalizing religion, it assumes that religious believers and institutions will take active roles in society.
Some domestic policies have not always respected that protection of religious freedom enshrined in our founding. The conflicts between religious practice and government mandates in the U.S. are not violent like those in China, Iran, North Korea, and elsewhere. Still, even the slow creep of an encroaching government on the free exercise of religion poses a threat to liberty that should concern all Americans.
The one-size-fits-all policies of Obamacare, for instance, are threatening the religious freedom of countless employers by mandating that they provide coverage of potentially life-ending drugs and devices.
Here, too, the Ryan budget acknowledges that no American should be forced to pay for or facilitate health care coverage that violates his or her values. The budget blueprint explains that “this budget does not condone any policy that would require entities or individuals to finance activities or make health decisions that violate their religious beliefs.”
The American conception of religious liberty provides every person the freedom to seek the truth, form beliefs, and live according to the dictates of his or her conscience—whether at home, in worship, or at work. That fundamental freedom forms the bedrock for other civil liberties and should be promoted and protected in U.S. domestic and international policy.