U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Hearing Protecting Houses of Worship and Holy Sites

Oct 23


Oct 23rd 3:00pm


U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Hearing

Protecting Houses of Worship and Holy Sites

Wednesday, October 23, 2019
3:00 – 4:30 PM
106 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Hearing Summary

Hearing Transcript

Please join the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for a hearing about the global targeting of houses of worship and holy sites around the world and how to protect them.

Houses of worship and other religious sites should be sanctuaries where worshippers feel safe to practice their faith. Tragically, as the 2019 incidents in New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Burkina Faso attest, attacks on houses of worship are increasingly occurring around the globe. These attacks aim to destroy the place of worship precisely for its religious significance, cause harm to a unique religious group, and instill fear in those that worship there.

Alongside these horrific attacks, places of worship are often harmed more subtly through the misuse of registration procedures to prevent their construction or renovation, the malicious surveillance of holy sites to intimidate worshippers, or acts of vandalism that aim to send a threatening message and harm property. Different types of buildings and properties that are significant to religious communities, such as cemeteries, monasteries, or community centers, also have been targeted. While violent attacks on such places are typically committed by non-state actors, less overt forms of harms and restrictions are often imposed by state authorities as well. This includes the failure of states to ensure the preservation of sacred places, places of worship, and cultural property that constitutes the cultural or spiritual heritage of people.

How can the international community better work together to stem the global violent targeting of houses of worship? Witnesses will highlight U.S. programs, intergovernmental initiatives, interfaith efforts, and other policy recommendations that aim to ensure that holy places remain safe havens and not sites of bloodshed.

Opening Remarks

Panel I

  • Honorable Sam Brownback, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, U.S. Department of State
    Written Testimony

Panel II

  • H.E. Miguel Moratinos, High Representative, U.N. Alliance of Civilizations
    Written Testimony

Panel III

  • Hassan Abbas, Distinguished Professor of International Relations at Near East South Asia Strategic Studies Center, National Defense University
    Written Testimony
  • Sharon Rosen, Global Director for Religious Engagement, Search for Common Ground
    Written Testimony


This hearing is open to Members of Congress, congressional staff, the public, and the media. Members of the media can RSVP at media@uscirf.gov. The hearing will be livestreamed via the Commission website. For any questions please contact Jamie Staley at Jstaley@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0606.