A Global Movement: State Department Report Reveals Religious Right On The Rise

The report documents the extensive consequences of such policies--and the rising influence of America's Religious Right is easily discernible.

The State Department yesterday released its annual report on the status of religious freedom around the world. And the results are not particularly encouraging: The report concludes that the right to practice religion (or the lack thereof) freely, and without reprisal, is under threat around the globe.

In many cases, religious liberty is threatened by government actions.

“Restrictive policies included laws criminalizing religious activities and expression, prohibitions on conversion or proselytizing, blasphemy laws, and stringent registration requirements or discriminatory application of registration requirements for religious organizations,” the report explained. 

It added, “When governments choose not to combat discrimination on the basis of religion and intolerance, it breeds an environment in which intolerant and violent groups are emboldened, even to the point of physically attacking individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs.” 

The report documents the extensive consequences of such policies--and the rising influence of America’s Religious Right is easily discernible.

Case in point: it criticizes Russia for a recent official shift toward privileging the Russian Orthodox Church, and enshrining its doctrine on sexual orientation in law, even though the country’s constitution ostensibly includes protections for religious liberty. This shift effectively criminalizes the country’s LGBT community—and American activists deserve much of the credit. The World Congress of Families, a U.S.-based group that campaigns against LGBT rights, actively supported Russia’s anti-gay laws, as did Scott Lively, who called Russia his “greatest success” earlier this year

The Religious Right’s global ambitions aren’t exactly news to anyone who follows the movement’s activities. Frustrated by a lack of success in the U.S., activists are beginning to look overseas for potential growth, which means that Russia isn’t an outlier. It’s merely a symptom of a growing global problem.

As Rob Boston reported on this blog last week, America’s Christian soldiers are also targeting Ukraine, pushing the same anti-LGBT agenda they’ve pushed in Russia—and Uganda, and elsewhere.  

And in an article published the same day the State Department released its report, Buzzfeed’s J. Lester Feder provided a more detailed glimpse into the rise of an organized European Religious Right, likely inspired by the march toward LGBT rights. “European progressives, who long thought debates over sexual rights had mostly been settled in their favor, were blindsided,” he wrote.

According to Feder, new groups like the Human Dignity Institute, which works to restrict abortion access and LGBT rights, and CitizenGo, which organizes and publishes petitions for extremist causes, have revitalized the continent’s social conservatives. And they’ve done so with direct assistance from the U.S. CitizenGo currently employs an organizer here—and he’s based in the National Organization for Marriage’s offices.

Like their American allies, Europe’s Religious Right waves the banner of “religious liberty” to defend its actions. But it’s quite easy to see exactly how little liberty the movement actually promises. Look no further than Russia, or anywhere else it’s been successful. The outcome inevitably oppresses minorities.

In the wake of recent victories for marriage equality, it’s easy to become complacent and assume that the Religious Right is losing its fangs. But when your raison d'être is dogma, you’re unlikely to give up easily, and so it should be little surprise to anyone that they’ve merely directed their energies overseas.

The State Department’s report provides twin warnings. It’s further evidence that the Religious Right’s influence isn’t limited to the U.S. It also documents the consequences of allowing governments to restrict religious liberty. When states endorse religion or favor one sect over all others, democracy suffers.

The Founding Fathers realized this—it’s why the Constitution includes the First Amendment. And it’s also why Americans United is as dedicated as ever to protecting the Constitution from the Religious Right’s assaults.