Promoting the Right of Freedom of Religion: Diverse Pathways to Religious Tolerance and Freedom of Religion and the Implications for American Foreign Policy

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Political Science

Publication Date



The fundamental right to Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB), codified in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), is often in the news due to the denial of this right by states and non-state actors. Various politicians lament the fact that individuals around the world are not able to practice and live up to the tenets of their faith due to government persecution or hostility from non-state actors. Given the widespread violation of this basic right, why has US foreign policy had a limited impact globally? Besides perceived national interests trumping this right, the tendency to conflate religious freedom and religious tolerance limits Washington’s impact. Religious tolerance is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for FoRB. To establish this difference, this article explores how different societies in different times pursued religious tolerance and later religious freedom. A greater understanding of the diverse motivations and pathways from persecution to religious tolerance, and in a more limited number of cases FoRB, is essential if Washington—or Inter-Governmental Organizations (IGO) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO)—wants to develop meaningful policies to improve the realization of this human right.


This article was originally published in Human Rights Quarterly. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Human Rights Quarterly


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