Bench Memos

McCain’s Other Speech

Just this morning I read Thomas Farr’s important paper in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. Now a visiting professor at Georgetown, Farr was the first Director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom. In the recent article, Farr makes a cogent case for the proposition that (in his words) “U.S. diplomacy should move resolutely to make the defense and expansion of religious freedom a core component of U.S. foreign policy.” He notes the upcoming tenth anniversary of the “landmark” International Religious Freedom Act, which mandated that religious liberty be a central part of our foreign affairs. But, Farr laments, neither the Clinton nor the Bush Administration nor the State Department itself has viewed the IRFA “as anything more than a narrow humanitarian measure unrelated to broader U.S. interests.”

But, then, before I had time to despair (or reach for Jack Daniels), across the transom arrived the text of Senator McCain’s talk this morning at Oakland University (the Oakland in Michigan, not Gertrude Stein’s). The talk is titled “Defending the Freedom and Dignity of the World’s Vulnerable.” The whole text (here) is worth a read, but this excerpt is an answer to Tom Farr’s prayers (and mine):

There is no right more fundamental to a free society than the free practice of religion. Behind walls of prisons and persecuted before our very eyes in places like China, Iran, Burma, Sudan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia are tens-of-thousands of people whose only crime is to worship God in their own way. No society that denies religious freedom can ever rightly claim to be good in some other way. And no person can ever be true to any faith that believes in the dignity of all human life if they do not act out of concern for those whose dignity is assailed because of their faith. As President, I intend to make religious freedom a subject of great importance for the United States in our relations with other nations. I will work in close concert with democratic allies to raise the prominence of religious freedom in every available forum. Whether in bilateral negotiations, or in various multi-national organizations to which America belongs, I will make respect for the basic principle of religious freedom a priority in international relations.

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