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How religion affects U.S. foreign policy
Secretary of State John Kerry hopes lawmakers will continue assessing the positive role religion plays in furthering foreign policy goals. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Religion is a powerful tool in global political negotiation, but many policymakers don't acknowledge how it works to promote good in the world, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Historically, the State Department has tended to downplay the role of religion or pay attention only when religion is deemed a problem, a threat, a challenge," Kerry said Tuesday in his remarks at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Business leaders often operate under this same misconception, as Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, told the Deseret News in 2014.

"There are many things that people in business monitor, but they never thought of (religion) as something that can be analyzed or understood," he said. "And perhaps their own actions could make a difference to solve issues that are also good for their bottom line."

Since Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the State Department has tracked religious freedom violations around the world, highlighting instances when leaders in majority faiths victimize members of minority religions.

"The IRFA requires the preparation and transmittal to Congress of an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom detailing the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, violations of religious freedom by foreign governments and United States' actions and policies in support of religious freedom," according to the State Department's website.

Although this tracking is valuable, Kerry said lawmakers shouldn't only study religion in order to criticize it. He noted that he established the State Department's Office of Religion and Global Affairs in 2013 in order to put a more positive spin on his team's approach to religion. The Office builds coalitions of faith leaders in order to tackle difficult issues like immigration and war.

"Last year, the office held a workshop for Christian and Muslim leaders in Nigeria to discuss strategies for fighting a culture of corruption in the country. It is engaging with religious leaders on resettling refugees in Europe, ending female genital mutilation in the Gambia and standing up for minority rights in France and Belgium," The Washington Post reported.

During his address, Kerry shared these success stories and committed to continuing his efforts to educate others about the positive role religion plays in foreign policy.

"The more we understand religion and the better able we are as a result to be able to engage religious actors, the more effective our diplomacy will be in advancing the interests and values of our people," he said.
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