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"Who made you the international morality cop?" The Chinese official from Beijing's Religious Affairs Bureau did not care that I was the first-ever United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. Nor did he care that the International Religious Freedom Act that created my office represented unprecedented bipartisanship and the overwhelming support of the American people. No, this Chinese official only saw another "ugly American" trying to preach American values to the rest of the world.

Seeing myself that way was but one of the lessons I learned in my 25-month stint as an ambassador at large. The second occurred over many, many meetings. During my years as ambassador at large, the number two man at the State Department, Strobe Talbott, would gather the assistant Secretaries of State together at 9:15 every morning to discuss global events.

In all of those "Talbott meetings," I was never once asked a question about religious freedom. Certainly, religious freedom indirectly came up in the context of disasters such as Afghanistan or Sudan, but the issue was never brought up in its own right—and this during an administration that cared deeply for human rights. But religious freedom was never going to wag the dog.

A third lesson arose as I got deeper into the job: Though I learned about many repressed people who had died for their faith, I unfortunately saw too many others who were more than willing to kill for their religion. There seemed to be little understanding that the right to religious belief brings with it the responsibility to demonstrate tolerance and respect for the faith of others.

These three lessons shaped not only how I tried to implement the International Religious Freedom Act; they also ...

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In the Magazine

October 22, 2001

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