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English Bishops Urge U.K. Government to Issue U.S.-Style Yearly Religious Freedom Reports

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have urged the UK government to begin publishing an annual religious freedom report similar to that produced each year by the U.S. State Department to help “strengthen the UK’s work in this area.”

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) submitted written evidence late last week to the House of Commons Inquiry Promoting Human Rights Around the World, highlighting five priorities in the area of human rights, the first of which was “freedom of religion or belief.”

The bishops suggested that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) follow the example of the U.S. State Department in publishing its annual International Religious Freedom Report.

“The US State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report lists representatives of faith groups that each diplomatic post has met over the preceding year,” the bishops note. “Adopting a similar system may facilitate better examination of country-level activity and strengthen the UK’s work in this area.”

“We therefore recommend that the FCO explores options for periodically publishing a summary of contact between diplomatic posts and faith communities particularly in human rights priority countries,” the paper states.

The bishops recognize that in certain diplomatic outposts staff may not be familiar with the situation of religious liberty in the countries where they are stationed, which they propose remedying by a targeted outreach in this area.

“In order to properly understand challenges to freedom of religion or belief, diplomatic posts must also be informed by regular engagement with local faith communities,” the bishops say, which is also essential for developing “religious literacy.”

The UK bishops push for greater emphasis on religious freedom dovetails with similar efforts in the United States.

This year’s report on International Religious Freedom announced a first-ever “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom” to be hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 25-26.

“Promoting and defending religious freedom is a priority for this Administration,” the State Department said. “To elevate the effort to ensure that everyone is able to live in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, Secretary Pompeo will host the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington on July 25-26.”

The Ministerial will convene “government and religious leaders, rights advocates, and civil society from around the world to discuss challenges, identify concrete means to push back against persecution and discrimination, and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.”

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