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Egyptian Copts murdered while at worship. The threat of religious extremists gaining political power in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The terrorist "Party of God" (Hezbollah) in control of Lebanese democracy.

Catholics slaughtered at mass in Baghdad. Iraq's ancient Christian population shrinks, and many non-Muslim minorities flee Iraq.

A Pakistani Christian mother sentenced to death for insulting the prophet Muhammed. A Muslim governor murdered for defending her; the public supports the murderer. Al Qaeda continues to operate in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Taliban ideology flourishes in Afghanistan. Muslim reformers are prosecuted for blasphemy.

Iran's religious courts impose death. Iranian Christians are subjected to a massive roundup by authorities. The Iranian theocratic regime seeks nuclear weapons and supports Islamist terrorists.

The fact that the Middle East is a cauldron of religious persecution and extremism is perhaps unsurprising.

What many Americans may not know is that the United States has for over a decade had an official policy of countering persecution and extremism by advancing religious freedom.

In 1998 Congress passed unanimously, and President Bill Clinton signed, the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act. The law established at the State Department a very senior diplomatic official—the IRF ambassador at large—to lead in matters of policy, and to put the promotion of religious freedom at the center of American diplomacy.

No administration has succeeded in doing that. But both Clinton and President George W. Bush appointed well-qualified ambassadors, and U.S. IRF policy, while not without serious problems, became a fixture at the Department of State.

The Obama administration, ...

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February 2011

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