On October 25, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented the annual International Religious Freedom Report, on behalf of the U.S. State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. In the first IRFR from the Obama administration, Clinton stated her opposition to international laws that would propose to protect religious liberty by preventing negative speech about religious viewpoints.

In her speech, available online at C-SPAN, Secretary Clinton said:

[O]ur country has been strengthened by its long tradition of religious pluralism. From the largest denominations to the very smallest congregations, American religious bodies and faith-based organizations have helped to create a more just and compassionate society. Now, some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion. I strongly disagree. The United States will always seek to counter negative stereotypes of individuals based on their religion and will stand against discrimination and persecution.

But an individual's ability to practice his or her religion has no bearing on others' freedom of speech. The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions. These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.

Clinton also addressed the status of religious freedom around the world and described several initiatives designed to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding.

In the Executive Summary of the report, available at the State Department web site, the Bureau describes international efforts, focusing on the efforts of the Vatican to engage Islam.    The Summary mentions that there is no "country report" for the Vatican which enjoys national sovereignty.

"The Holy See has taken a leading role in recent engagement with Islam, accompanied by growing interest from diverse religious groups and regions. . . . The Holy See favors a dialogue that will lead to greater religious freedom and tolerance for differences. In the letter exchange between Prince Talal and the Vatican, analysts have noted references from both sides to longstanding areas of concern, such as respect for the dignity of every human person and respect for religious freedom, often expressed in terms of "reciprocity." Other areas of concern include educating the public on the essential elements of both religions, sharing religious experience, and promoting mutual respect instead of violence, especially among the young."

The report also outlines progress toward religious reconciliation within countries. such as India which recently experienced violence between religious groups, the Ukraine, and several other nations.

There are several nations with severe religious liberty situations (designated as Countries of Particular Concern, or CPCs)  including Burma which is currently under U.S. sanction for human rights abuses, China with which the U.S. has a complicated relationship due to a combination of ongoing human rights abuses and trade, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.  The report outlines specific concerns about these countries and others.



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