Presidents of the United States have proclaimed January 16 National Religious Freedom Day since 1993. On this day, the U.S. government reconfirms its pledge to promote respect for religious freedom and diversity; to promote accountability for religious-based violence; and to urge other governments to adopt legal protections for religious minorities and religious practice. In 2017, Religious Freedom Day fell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday to commemorate the life and work of civil rights activist and leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The convergence of these two national commemorations provide a perfect opportunity to highlight the nexus between religious freedom and freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, as well as the protections of equal rights for all.
Twenty-four percent of the world’s countries have serious restrictions on religious freedom, and 74 percent of the world’s population lives in those countries. In a world where reportedly over 80 percent of people hold a religious belief, the suppression of religious freedom and freedom of expression can lead to violence. Respect for religious freedom reinforces respect for freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly; values Dr. King fought and died for in the United States, as have many others around the world.
Advocating for religious freedom is a core American value and policy that has enjoyed significant bipartisan support. The U.S. Government is committed to protecting religious freedom at home and promoting it abroad, based on the values underpinning our own constitution and with the deep conviction that religious freedom is a universal human right, instrumental to global peace, security, stability, and prosperity. We work with many partners on issues relevant to religious communities and the rights of religious groups, and actively engage in human rights-focused UN bodies, including the Human Rights Council and the UN Third Committee.
Religious freedom has been and will remain a vital aspect of our foreign policy and diplomatic partnership with Botswana. The U.S. Embassy engages with the government of Botswana, civil society, and the media not only on religious freedom, but also freedom of expression, association and assembly. In just one of many examples, in September last year, the Embassy hosted a media round-table to underscore U.S. government support for freedom of religion and speech.
Botswana can be proud of the rights and protections it affords all residents, including the constitutional rights of freedom of religious thought. We look forward to continued and increased collaborations with the people of Botswana, civil society and the government as we work together to in support of tolerance and respect for all in Botswana, regardless of faith.
(*Note: International Religious Freedom Day is celebrated separately, on October 27)