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By Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
Review by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor

Princeton professor Robert George recently delivered the Templeton Lecture on Religion and World Affairs at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. George provided an overview of the state of religious freedom around the world and an explanation of why this matters to U.S. foreign policy.

Religious freedom, he said, is at the core of who we are as human beings; it is “central to human personhood.” He cited studies that show that countries that protect religious liberty tend to be more stable and secure, while nations that restrict or trample on religious freedom tend to be breeding grounds for war, poverty, and terror.

George noted that 75 percent of the world’s people (more than five billion humans) live in countries that significantly restrict religious freedom. He called North Korea and China secular tyrannies that are hostile to religion. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Pakistan are “religious tyrannies.” Russia, he said, was a hybrid of secular and religious tyranny.

He compared Islamic radicalism in the Middle East to the secular totalitarians of the 20th century (Nazis and communists). The Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and their offshoots are the “new totalitarians” who are persecuting Christians, Jews, and other religious groups. George noted that the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East may well turn the cradle of Christianity into its graveyard.

George’s proposed solution to this trend would combine diplomatic and economic sanctions against such countries. He noted that under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, Congress gave the State Department the authority to designate religious rights violators as “countries of particular concern” and impose diplomatic and economic sanctions against them, but no administration since then has effectively used this weapon to support religious freedom.

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