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Response from Richard W. Garnett

Discussion Question: How Involved Should The United States Be In Issues Of International Religious Freedom?

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Its principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations. It is currently under review for re-authorization. How important is it to continue to support this body? Is the U.S. overstepping its authority by monitoring the state of religious freedom outside its borders? Should we be concentrating our resources and efforts here at home?


The United States has a vital interest not only in monitoring, but in supporting and strengthening, the health of religious freedom around the world. Religious freedom is, after all, a fundamental human right, and the United States quite appropriately is concerned not only with the rights of its own citizens, but with the well-being and flourishing of all people. In addition, it is clear that the advance of religious freedom abroad serves American interests in security and stability. To be sure, countries and cultures are different, and we should not expect religious liberty to look exactly the same in every context. Nevertheless, it is important both to the enterprise of promoting human rights for all, and to the interests of the United States, that all governments respect the independence of religious authorities and the dignity of individuals’ religious conscience.

Photo of Richard W. Garnett

Author: Richard W. Garnett

Richard W. Garnett is an Associate Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame School of Law. Professor Garnett teaches and writes about the freedoms of speech, association, and religion, and also about constitutional law more generally. He is a leading authority on questions and debates regarding the role of religious believers and beliefs in politics and society. He has published widely on these matters, and is the author of dozens of law-review articles and book chapters. His current research project, Two There Are: Understanding the Separation of Church and State, will be published by Cambridge University Press. He is the founding director of Notre Dame Law School’s new Program in Church, State, and Society, an interdisciplinary project that focuses on the role of religious institutions, communities, and authorities in the social order.

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