Drawing on his background as a former ambassador to the Holy See, last week, freshman U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., looked to make the case that religious freedom plays a major role in the war on terror. 

Despite not even being in Congress for a year, at the start of last month, Rooney was named vice chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, replacing fellow Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho.

Rooney took part in a congressional hearing last week and insisted religious freedom is an important part in the war against Islamist terror. 

“Religious freedom is an important soft power tool for combating radical Islamic extremism,” Rooney said. “When practiced freely, religion provides stability in society, leading to tolerance of differing views. Promoting free expression of religion in the Islamic world, including eliminating blasphemy laws, ending persecution of religious minorities, and promoting an interpretation of the Koran aligned with 21st century mores, would curtail the prevalence of extremist views.”

Despite first being elected to Congress last year, Rooney has solid experience in foreign policy. Besides serving as then President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the Holy See, Rooney also had two stints on the  Advisory Commission on the Panama Canal and has written extensively on foreign policy. 

Rooney drew on that background last week as he showcased two essays he wrote on religious freedom for Real Clear Policy back in May. 

“Free expression of religion can stabilize civil societies and has helped defeat extremist ideologies,” Rooney wrote. “Currently, Islamic society is stuck in the past and uses an extreme interpretation of the Koran to justify barriers to the free expression of religion, such as blasphemy laws, and for violent religious persecution. Promoting religious freedom, including the values of free expression and dialogue, will help undermine these blasphemy laws, hopefully leading to their elimination, and will allow Muslim leaders to freely speak out to reform Islam from within.”

Rooney insisted extending religious freedom in the Muslim world could play a decisive role in the war against terror. 

“Free expression of religion, including eliminating blasphemy laws, is necessary to ensure Muslim leaders can promote reform without fear,” Rooney wrote. “Islamic leaders should follow the example set by the Catholic Church in the 1960s and adopt a doctrine providing for religious liberties and the foundations for inter-religious dialogues. During the Second Vatican Council in (1962–1965), the Catholic Church adopted Nostra aetate and Dignitatis humanae. These documents called for expanded religious freedom and tolerance, allowing the Church’s acceptance of other religions, and were widely supported by Eastern European prelates who acutely understood the importance of religious freedom because they had lived under communist rule, where religion was suppressed by unrestricted government power. 

 ‘Soft power’ diplomacy, which advances values such as religious freedom and tolerance and criticizes the concept of blasphemy in today’s world, can materially contribute to defeating radical Islamic terrorism and promoting religious freedom,” Rooney added. “This, in turn, will help stabilize Islamic societies. The United States should work alongside the governments of Muslim countries, the Catholic Church, and non-governmental organizations to eliminate blasphemy laws and promote an environment in which moderate Muslims can safely speak up. Such reforms would allow concepts such as the separation of church and state — as opposed to the theocracies that now exist in many Muslim countries — and modern interpretations of the Koran to be nurtured in the Muslim world.”

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