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Treating religions (un)equally

posted by Claire Ma

Earlier this summer, The Immanent Frame published an off the cuff exchange about the State Department’s new initiative to engage religious communities in US diplomacy. Conversation and critiques are still going strong; Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, an original contributor to “Engaging religion at the Department of State,” has penned a commentary for Al Jazeera America in which she critiques US faith-based engagement abroad as a violation of the separation of church and state:

As well intentioned as these efforts appear, they raise serious concerns about government’s relationship with religion. Such projects require the government to decide which groups count as religious and worthy of engagement. Here the state must choose among vying sects and authorities, privileging some at the expense of others. There may be no agreement within a particular religious tradition on who speaks authoritatively for that tradition, who is in and out of favor, which texts and practices represent the core of the tradition and so forth. For the government to decide which groups are in and out grants sanction to some theological understandings and practices over others….

International public policy should be informed by a sophisticated understanding of religion. But when governments engage individuals and groups in policy terms as religious groups, they are liable to discriminate. To ensure that people in other countries — all people, including but not limited to those that governments call religious — receive fair treatment, they should be engaged primarily as citizens and as people. To rely on religion as a category in law and public policy is always, in some form, to establish it.

Please read the complete piece, “Losing faith in faith-based outreach,” here.

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