The Bush Administration and America's International Religious Freedom Policy

June 1, 2009

In the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Thomas F. Farr and William L. Saunders, Jr. explore how international religious freedom (IRF) policy fared under the George W. Bush Administration. In attempting to gauge success and failure, and strength and weakness, they focus on three issues: "the extent to which U.S. diplomacy actually reduced religious persecution, how well it advanced the institutions and habits of religious freedom, and what basis it provided the Obama Administration to make further progress." In each of these areas, they argue, "the record is, unsurprisingly, mixed." Overall, Farr and Saunders argue that the Bush Administration focused attention on governments that were violating international norms of religious freedom, and were even able to successfully free a significant amount of religious and political prisoners. Sudan, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia made significant structural steps in improving their religious freedom policies, too. Ultimately, however, the Bush Administration's record in religious freedom promotion is less favorable. The authors conclude: "Surprisingly, it appears that IRF policy, isolated within the State Department, had virtually no role in democracy promotion, public diplomacy, or counterterrorism strategy."

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