Land: religious liberty vital to world stability

The 21st century is a century of religion and policy-makers must understand it, SBC ethicist says.

HOUSTON?Religious persecution worldwide is increasing and U.S. foreign policy must grasp the religious dimensions of conflicts if democracy and peace are to flourish globally, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land told a Rice University audience June 8.

Land, in a lecture titled “Global Security and U.S. National Interests: Why Religious Freedom Matters,” delivered at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy on behalf of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said if the 20th century was known as the century of ideology, the 21st century is the century of religion. Nearly every conflict worldwide has a religious dimension, and U.S. foreign policy must engage countries that suppress the God-given right to freedom of conscience, Land contended.

President Bush appointed Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, to the USCIRF in 2001 and again in 2003.

“The world is filled with religious-related persecution and the situation is getting worse, not better,” Land said.

Such persecution was the impetus for the International Religious Freedom Act, passed with broad bipartisan support by Congress in 1998, which brought USCIRF into being, Land noted.

Old concepts of national security based on sovereign nations competing for strategic superiority are being replaced by ethnic and religious strife combined with high-tech weapons capability, Land said.

“It’s important for future leaders to be able to take religion seriously?to understand its yearnings, to use its potential and to counter its danger,” he said. “Diplomats and politicians and policy-makers who are not equipped to do that are going to find themselves falling short in putting forward U.S. policy goals in the 21st century.”

Land cited four reasons why religious freedom concerns are vital to U.S. national interests.

First, Land said, religious liberty has been integral to America’s history.

“I believe we always do best in the world when we reflect who we are and when our foreign policy reflects who we are. And religious freedom, freedom of conscience, is an integral part, a foundational part, of why this nation exists,” he said. “… From our nation’s founding, the belief that every human being has a fundamental right to believe, worship and practice according to his or her own conscience has been a core conviction of the vast majority of the American people.”

Thomas Jefferson, Land said, called religious liberty the “first freedom,” and the founding fathers “believed that these rights were inalienable because they were understood to exist prior to society and to government and were granted by neither, but instead were merely recognized and protected.”

Land said the practice of religious freedom entails other rights such as freedom of assembly, free expression and property ownership, and such freedom creates “breathing room” for political dissidents, labor organizers and human rights advocates. Religious freedom fueled democratic reforms in Eastern Europe and has inspired communist

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