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Remarks on Release of the Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
September 19, 2008

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(2:33 p.m. EDT)

Good afternoon. Today, I have transmitted to Congress the 10th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. The report will soon be made available on the Department’s website in dozens of languages. We hope that it will serve as a resource for people in the United States and those in the international community who share our concerns for religious freedom.

I am grateful to Ambassador John Hanford and the Office of International Religious Freedom, and to Department employees worldwide who have worked tirelessly to produce a compelling and comprehensive report on the conditions of religious freedom across the globe.

Religious freedom is at the core of our nation, now as always. We are a country founded on the belief that all men and women are created equal, that as equals we enjoy certain universal and inalienable rights, and that among these are the right to live without oppression, to worship as we wish, and to think and speak and assemble without retribution.

Indeed, just last week, I was honored to welcome Muslim leaders, friends, and colleagues from around our country and across the world to the State Department to share a traditional Iftaar dinner.

For nations that uphold the liberty and dignity of every citizen, they discover, as we have, that these highest of ideals are a source of strength, success, and stability. Nations must not only make peace with their neighbors, they must make peace with themselves, and that means respecting diversity, and protecting it in law.

Through our bilateral relationships, our work in international fora, and our ongoing engagement with NGOs, civil society leaders, and scholars, the United States will continue to actively promote religious freedom as essential to human dignity, a robust civil society, and democratic development.

The United States rejects actions that are offensive to particular religious traditions, but we do not condone the prohibition of free speech. That only weakens societies. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate on new initiatives that both respect human rights and foster a climate of religious tolerance. But we are concerned by efforts to promote a so-called defamation of religions concept, which has been the focus of numerous resolutions passed at the United Nations. Instead of protecting religious practice and promoting tolerance, this concept seeks to limit freedom of speech and that could undermine the standards of international religious freedom.

With the unveiling of the 2008 Report on International Religious Freedom, the State Department continues to advance the guiding principle that President Bush laid out in his second inaugural that the best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

It’s now my pleasure to invite Ambassador John Hanford to provide additional details for you concerning the report and to answer your questions. Thank you.


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