ICLARS: Newsletter n. 4 (April 2014)
FoRB in the International Arena Books & Journals
The global community of scholars studying the role of religion in the public sphere has recently witnessed the growing relevance of the role of religion in the foreign policies of some States and international organizations. An academic manifestation of this recent trend is represented by the forthcoming Summer Academy organized by the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion and devoted to “Versions of Secularism –Comparative and International Legal and Foreign Policy Perspectives on International Religious Freedom” ( 23-28 June 2014). The right to freedom of religion or belief becomes therefore central not only to the study of church-state relations within a given country but also for the understanding of religious conflicts and religious persecutions in many parts of the globe and for the relationships among different states in the global arena. From the role of political Islam in the context of the Arab Spring, to the conservative Evangelicals in the United States to the conflict between Buddhists and Muslims in India, these conflicts are often framed in the language of human rights, and in particular as a claim for religious freedom. Some states are creating special institutions devoted to the promotion and protection of religious freedom abroad making it a priority in their foreign policies. This is only one of the different “policy regimes” that try to incorporate religion within their considerations. According to Bettizza a “policy regime” is a characterized by a “system of evolving policies, initiatives, practices, overlapping institutional arrangements, ideas, more or less coherently linked and tied together over time, that develop to address a particular foreign policy issue”. In the case of the United States for instance we can distinguish besides the attempt to mainstream religious freedom abroad also the willingness to engage with religious communities and religious leaders, Islam- and Muslim-based initiatives, faith-based development. For what may concern religious freedom, based on the U.S. model of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the European Union, Canada, Italy and other states are all considering, and some are already implementing, specific policies aimed at fostering the protection and promotion of freedom of religion or belief and other forms of engagement with religious groups on their foreign policies. A clear example of this trend is the recent approval of the European Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief in the external action of the European Union. The text of the guidelines for the promotion and protection of FoRB provides reasons, options and tools for EU diplomats to integrate the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom and religion and belief in the external action of the EU and in the relationship with third countries, for instance through Association Agreements or general agreements of a commercial nature. It is also worth mentioning the role that could be played by civil society, Human rights defenders and NGOs in this process. Interestingly, the text of the guidelines offers some fundamental legal notions such as a broad understanding of “freedom of religion or belief” and the possibility to deploy EU financial resources when the protection and promotion of rights are at stake. These actions and the interests that they reflect raise important questions. As Lorenzo Zucca has already argued: “The most obvious problem is that action is not guided by an international universal understanding of the human rights to freedom of religion or belief, but rather by a very domestic one.” This may not be peculiar to freedom or religion or belief, of course. More importantly, as Thomas Farr has recognized, in the case of the United States: “Notwithstanding the hard, creative work of the State’s Department Office of international religious freedom, it would be difficult to name a single country in the world over the past fifteen years where American religious freedom policy has helped to reduce religious persecution or to increase religious freedom in any substantial or sustained way.” Coming from one of the most vocal advocates for an active role of the U.S. in protecting religious freedom, the statement stand out as a guilty verdict. But what exactly is this global trend to protect religious freedom about? What exactly is being protected, by whom, and with what consequences? While there is no shortage of immediate action in this policy domain, we don’t know what the consequences of these initiatives will be in the long run. It also remains to be seen how the concept of the right to freedom of religion, as well as what it means to protect it through law, will change over time.