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Standing Together for Religious Freedom

“I travel around to countries and meet with oppressed religious minorities, and they say ‘You hold our story up to the world. You give us a voice.’” US Ambassador-at-Large for International Freedom, David Saperstein was sworn in on January 6th, 2015. In the time following, he has traveled around the world to meet with government officials, religious groups, and those affected by religious restrictions. On November 17th, Ambassador Saperstein addressed the BYU campus in a Distinguished Lecture titled, “U.S. Efforts to Promote International Religious Freedom.” He described the current climate of religious freedom around the world. “Three-fourths of the world’s population live in countries that have serious restrictions regarding religious freedom.” Many of these restrictions are disguised as blasphemy laws, laws that severely punish individuals for making core life decisions in accordance to their religious beliefs. Saperstein’s travels have given him the opportunity to meet and work with people from many different faiths and backgrounds. Oftentimes, the countries with the most progress on religious freedom issues are those in which interfaith cooperation flourishes, even when the interfaith efforts are “done at the risk of life and limb.”

This face-to-face support around the world is what keeps him optimistic about the future of religious freedom. He urged audience members to support and demand religious freedom for all. When religious persecution occurs, many communities “come together to clean up and stand in solidarity. It’s one of the more remarkable facts of our time. We should remember the heroic efforts of those who are willing to stand up for those under persecution.” International religious freedom can seem overwhelmingly impossible. However, it is the small, daily efforts of neighbors and friends that drive the work forward. Saperstein has overseen the creation of Vietnam’s religious freedom bill for over 18 months. The bill will not resolve every religious liberty issue, but it is a step forward in easing the oppression of religious minorities. “It’s a long-term engagement in which we are involved. But every time we make a difference, it is a blessing to those we affect and a source of hope for others.”