As prepared for delivery by Ambassador Ian Kelly to the High Level Meeting for Confronting Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims in Public Discourse, Vienna October 28, 2011
We welcome the opportunity to join our distinguished colleagues in this critical dialogue today. As signatories to the 1975 OSCE Final Act, participating States have committed to ensure “freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion [and] recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.”
We restate these commitments because while religious freedom is thriving in many participating States, in others, these commitments have yet to be fulfilled. Of particular concern are restrictive laws that limit religious practice.
In recent years, for example, the free practice of religion, including Islam, has been severely constrained throughout the region. Broad bans on the way people express their faith, such as through religious attire and the opportunity to build houses of worship are present in many countries throughout the OSCE region. Further, when allowed, in some communities Muslims have been denied the right to use traditional Islamic design in the construction of mosques. While some see the intent of many of these initiatives as targeting Muslims alone, in effect these initiatives set a precedent that could readily lead to limitations on the rights of Christians, Jews and members of other religions as well as Muslims,to practice their faiths as they choose.
Recently adopted laws in some Central Asian States contain such restrictive provisions as onerous registration requirements, censorship of religious literature, and prohibitions on religious education for children. Certain states label peaceful religious groups as extremist or terrorist, and utilize anti-terrorism and extremism laws to proscribe their religious activities. Such an approach has affected many Muslim groups. The use of such laws must be abandoned, as they undermine legitimate religious activities and in fact have the unintended effect of fostering extremism.
We must acknowledge that in our own country, there have been attempts to halt the construction of mosques, cemeteries, and sites of other religious activities, and a number of U.S. states have introduced misguided laws that target Muslim populations. However, the values of our nation as outlined in the U.S. constitution provide the rights of all Americans to practice their faith freely. Further, through key political leadership, we are taking action to ensure shrill voices will not divide our nation. The U.S. government does challenge state laws in court when it believes that these laws violate rights protected in the Constitution. Through such initiatives as the ‘2011 Hours against Hate’ Campaign, President Obama’s Executive Order “Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce” and the President’s plan on “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States,” we are addressing anti-Muslim and other prejudices in our country and throughout the OSCE region. We also continue to support the various OSCE initiatives that address religious prejudice and discrimination.
President Obama has previously stated that, “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country, [including] the right to build a place of worship…in accordance with local laws and ordinances.” The right to “establish and maintain freely accessible places of worship or assembly” is also enshrined in the 1989 Vienna document. We strongly urge participating States to defend these and other rights for Muslims and members of other religious communities. Failure to do so contributes to the erosion of not only the right to religious freedom but also to the erosion of the freedoms of assembly, expression, and other human rights. And failure to defend these rights also contributes to prejudiced beliefs, discriminatory practices, and even violence toward members of Muslim communities.
Thank you, Mr. Moderator.