Citing discrimination and violence against Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Muslims, US Secretary of State John Kerry has said serious challenges to religious freedom remain globally, including the increasing use of laws governing blasphemy and apostasy in some nations.
Kerry said that religious freedom is an integral part of the global diplomatic effort of the Obama Administration.
Describing freedom of religion as a core American value, Kerry said attacks on religious freedom are both a moral and a strategic national security concern for the US.
He was speaking at the launch of the annual international religious freedom report of the State Department as mandated by the US Congress.
"Freedom of religion is not an American invention. It's a universal value, and it's enshrined in our constitution and ingrained in every human heart. The freedom to profess and practice one's faith, to believe or not to believe, or to change one's beliefs, that is a birthright of every human being. And that's what we believe," he said.
Kerry said the promotion of international religious freedom is a priority for US President Barack Obama, and it is a priority for him as secretary of state.
"I am making certain, and will continue to, that religious freedom remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement," he said, adding that the release of this report is an important part of those efforts.
The report, he said, chronicles discrimination and violence in countries ranging from established democracies to entrenched dictatorships.
It documents that governments around the globe continue to detain, imprison, torture and even kill people for their religious beliefs.
"In too many places, governments are also failing to protect minorities from social discrimination and violence.
The report identifies global problems of discrimination and violence against religious groups, including Baha'is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs," he said.
Kerry in his remarks identified anti-Semitism and increasing use of laws governing blasphemy and apostasy as a troubling trend.
He announced to name Ira Forman to the position of special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, said the US is concerned about restriction of religious freedom to Hindus and other minorities in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan.