The United States said the right to global religious freedom was challenged last year with governments often creating a climate of intolerance leading to hatred and violence.
In an annual report, the State Department said Monday government officials worldwide are often allowed to act with impunity while violating the religious rights of their countrymen. It said there often is uneven enforcement of religious freedom laws and introduction of new restrictions.
Secretary of State John Kerry said religious freedom is the birthright of every human being, but is often restricted.
The chief U.S. diplomat said religious freedom throughout the world is a national security concern for the U.S.
“When countries undermine or attack religious freedom, they not only unjustly threaten those who they target, they also threaten their countries’ own stability. And we see that in so many places,” said Kerry. “Attacks on religious freedom are therefore both a moral and a strategic national security concern for the United States.”
He said the State Department found a “troubling” increase in anti-Semitism and named a new aide to monitor the problem. The report cited abuses in several countries, particularly in Venezuela, Egypt and Iran.
Kerry said there is a growing number of blasphemy and apostasy laws that often violate religious freedoms and are applied in a discriminatory manner. The report singled out Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Iran and Eritrea for its pursuit of cases against individuals accusing them of blasphemy.
The report called Christians “a leading target of societal discrimination and abuse” in some parts of the world. But it also said Muslims, especially minority branches of Islam, also suffered, especially if they were considered by the majority to be “heretical or foreign.”
The U.S. law on religious freedom calls for naming other countries it considers to be committing “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Under the law, the State Department two years ago named eight nations as countries of particular concern: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
The report said the respect for religious freedom declined in China and Iran in 2012 and stayed the same in the other six countries.