The Pew Research Center observed that worldwide, government restrictions on religious freedom had reached an all-time high despite the Trump administration’s long-standing battle to prioritize the concern locally.

The United Nations has spent decades working on providing more religious freedom to people around the world. The agency’s directives include non-discrimination based on religion or belief passed in 1981.

Religious Freedom

In 2016, the current special rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, was appointed into his position after six years of dedicated service as the human rights watchdog on Iran for the UN. Shaheed was a former foreign minister of the Maldives and was later declared an Islam apostate in his home country after continuous efforts of supporting democracy and human rights.

During an interview in April, Shaheed said that the coronavirus pandemic had had a significant impact on everyone worldwide. He issues three statements related to the effects of the virus on people around the world.

First, he expressed his concerns about how cremations of people who have died from the virus would be processed. He hoped that relatives would be able to attend the ritual and noted how religious practices could be limited due to restrictions on public safety. However, he reminded politicians to be mindful of their obligations to international law.

Secondly, he addressed the issue of hate speech focused on minority Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Shaheed said the victims have been used as scapegoats and flooded with conspiracy theories that they are at fault for the coronavirus. Some have even been denied health care due to inaccurate information.

Thirdly. Shaheed raised awareness of the threat of anti-Semitism that has been quickly spreading around the world.

The special rapporteur said that his statements reflected the importance of faith-based communities has during this crisis. Shaheed also expressed his pride in how religious leaders have acted throughout the pandemic.

Shaheed noted that the role of the American government had been a key factor in promoting religious freedom worldwide for several years now. He applauded Trump’s International Alliance for Religious Freedom and Belief (IRFA), which 30 states have agreed to sign. He said it was a directive that had each nation work together regardless of religion and culture.

The World’s Progress

Despite America’s continuous efforts to raise awareness for religious freedom, most people are concerned if it is done with respect to all human rights. However, Ambassador at Large, Sam Brownback, has been optimistic about the IRF office’s work.

During Iran’s last UPR, officials mentioned the term “Christian converts,” which raised the question of why governments are not more focused on providing freedom on issues of beliefs. Brownback has previously raised the alarm about the issue and said that despite Iran’s tolerance to long-held Christian communities, officials have been defiant of new communities forming.

Brownback said that on 90% of cases he worked on, Iran would simply back down, and something good would result from it. He said that the work they have done has helped people be more safe and secure, Christianity Today reported.

With regards to documents that detail tolerance and anti-terrorism information, Brownback said the UN could implement more practical steps to ensure progress on the challenges that have been raised. He said that officials should look into making legislation more inclusive of having a better chance of implementation.

The Faith for Rights initiative, as Brownback frequently mentions, has been cited in multiple important documents. He noted that it was a step forward how some Gulf institutions have been quoting the writing.

However, the ambassador said that the public needed to understand what the document meant for everyone involved. Brownback added that the legal community should also be cooperating with parliamentarians and judges. However, even with bipartisan and widespread support, the road to religious freedom would still be filled with challenges.