The State Ministerial, a gathering of state-level government ministers, hosted this week by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has brought dozens of world leaders to the nation’s capital. Throughout the week, there are side events being held by independent organizations. One such event was organized by Hardwire, a nonprofit fighting for religious tolerance worldwide, in order to release a study that was recently concluded. Speakers at the event included President of Hardwire Tina Ramirez and Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL).
One of the more noteworthy speeches was given by Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA). He is a member of the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus and well-qualified to speak on the matter.
In Garrett’s year and half of serving in Congress, he has found that “where there is religious diversity, there you see greater stability.” This is obvious in areas such as food sustainability, economic opportunity, and greater life expectancy. Living in a community of individuals who differ in world views is not just morally right, but practically beneficial. When governments, such as the US according to Garrett, try to force ideologies onto another nation, it reaps the same results, namely intolerance and violence.
Instead of assimilating to be akin to one another, “U.S. foreign policy should be founded on commonalities.” Garrett pointed out that “where we find these nations [who agree with us on basic tenets], regardless of their form of government, we should engage in discourse.” This discourse needs to take place in spite of dissimilarities and past grievances. Recognizing people are flawed will help nations move beyond historical tensions and look towards a brighter future.
Garrett’s commentary is backed by a study debuted by Hardwire at the same event. Teams were sent out to places like Morocco, Sudan, and Iraq where they interacted with 56 teachers and more than 1,200 students. Those who participated were introduced to the idea of caring for others despite apparent differences, specifically in spite of religious differences. Through a rights-based curriculum, the students eventually found common ground in mutual experiences of intolerance. After the teaching curriculum was concluded, all of them said they would defend those who believed differently than them. At least half of those who originally would have resorted to violence against others reported they would no longer do so.
With a rights-based education system, children are raised to understand “that there are certain things we would like to control, but are out of our ability to control and that attempt to control them only makes us worse.” It shifts the focus from the things that drive people apart toward things that unite them.
Religious tolerance is undeniably good for society, as Garret so aptly pointed out early in his speech. When a community is allowed to have a medley of religions, world views, and ethnicities, it tends to flourish. The ravaging and persecution of people groups based on nothing more than religious practices is unacceptable. The State Ministerial is sure to highlight further ways in which tolerance can be promoted globally.