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Government of Sudan agrees to separate church and state, establish national commission for religious freedom

Sudan’s transitional government signed an agreement this week stating that its “constitution should be based on the principle of ‘separation of religion and state,’” Christianity Today reports.  After 30 years of Islamic rule in Sudan under President Omar al-Bashir, the agreement promises that “the state shall not establish an official religion.”

The agreement builds on a peace deal signed a few days earlier in Juba, Sudan, between the government and several rebel groups that also emphasized religious freedom. According to Agenzia Fides, the Juba Agreement “provides for the establishment of a national commission for religious freedom which guarantees the protection of the rights of Christian communities in the south of the Country.”

This development continues steady progress in the direction of religious freedom in that war-torn country following the removal of Bashir in 2019. Late last year, the State Department removed Sudan from its list of Countries of Particular Concern, noting “significant steps taken by the civilian-led transitional government to address the previous regime’s “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” 

It is no accident that religious freedom is a component of the peace process. Religious freedom and peace go hand in hand. “Sudan is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society,” the new agreement says. “Full recognition and accommodation of these diversities must be affirmed.

An agreement in principle is a promising start, but it is only that. As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom warned, “the bureaucratic, legal, and ideological burdens of the former regime’s 30 years in power still weigh heavily on religious minorities and other vulnerable populations.”

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Another sign of progress came this summer, when Sudan repealed its apostasy law. The U.S. Congress can show support for increasing religious freedom globally by passing H.Res. 512 and S.Res. 458, calling for the repeal of apostasy and blasphemy laws around the world. BJC supports those resolutions.

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Here’s hoping a new constitution will codify, as promised, a commitment to religious freedom for all, that Sudan’s leaders will honor and enforce that commitment, and that the reforms will be embraced by the Sudanese people. For a nation that has known only theocracy for more than a generation, that is surely a difficult road, but is the path toward lasting and true peace.

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