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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

No nation can fulfil potential if religious freedom denied: US

US ambassador-at-large for religious freedom Rabbi David Saperstein says South Asia faces serious challenges to religious freedom

Washington: No nation can fulfil its potential if people are denied the right to practice freedom of religion, a top US official has said while underlining that upholding religious freedom remains a top priority for the Barack Obama administration.

Rabbi David Saperstein, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, in his keynote address to the inaugural policy conference of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) said in all countries including the US and India, “holding of fundamental freedom is responsibility of government" and each and every person.

“During her visit to India earlier this year, the undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, Sarah B. Sewall, noted that in India more than 170 million Muslims live alongside Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains," the American diplomat on international religious freedom said.

“Across India faith communities and civil society organizations are mobilizing to challenge religious intolerance," he said. “When some voices openly worry that Indian Muslims would be swayed by Daesh propaganda, (Union) home minister (Rajnath) Singh responded by calling the Muslim community patriots and praising the diversity as an enduring trend. That is the kind of leadership we need to see from public officials more of across the globe," he said.

Religious freedom, Saperstein said, remains a top priority for the Obama administration. Noting that current challenges of international religious freedom are daunting, the US official said no nation can fulfil its potential if people are denied the right to practice freedom of religion.

“We apply this principle in bilateral relations with every country in south Asia," he said in his remarks at HAF, the top Hindu advocacy group for the Hindu community in the US.

Saperstein in response to a question said the bulk of what is happening in south Asia is the bulk of what is happening in America. “...It is not actually that ISIL (Islamic State) is mobilizing; it is rather people who have decided for one reason or the other to engage in extremist activities, being inspired by or using as a justification or trying to be a part of this group in their mind and identifying with ISIL," he said.

Saperstein said the challenges to religious freedom in south Asia “are serious" and the US addresses them in a range of ways. “In Pakistan, we continue to see authorities enforce blasphemy laws and convictions still occur," he said. PTI

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