Our First Look at How Pompeo and Blinken See Religious Freedom Differently

Four takeaways from this week’s release of the State Department’s 2020 IRF report.

The rollout of the US State Department’s most recent report on international religious freedom (IRF) this week was a study in the contrasts between the Trump and Biden administrations.

But there were also continuities.

Here are two of each that stand out to me as a religious freedom scholar and former staffer in the IRF office:

1. Humility

At last year’s rollout, then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasted, “There is no other nation that cares so deeply about religious freedom” and “We remain the greatest nation in the history of civilization.” Hardly a winsome self-characterization. His only caveat was “America is not a perfect nation,” which is the kind of thing you say when you think you’re pretty close to perfect or don’t want to get into specifics about how you’re not.

By contrast, this week current Secretary of State Antony Blinken was self-effacing and specific. Blinken, who is Jewish, lamented that “we’re seeing antisemitism on the rise worldwide, including here in the United States as well as across Europe.” The same goes for anti-Muslim sentiment, which he labeled a “serious problem for the United States as well as in Europe.” Blinken’s modesty and self-awareness add credibility to America’s promotion of tolerance. What should differentiate the US government from authoritarian regimes is not only a higher level of respect for religious freedom but also more honesty about shortcomings and actively addressing them.

2. Co-equal Human Rights

In an article for Christianity Today last November, I argued that American religious freedom advocates can be divided into two basic camps: “First Freedom” and “Article …

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