Hillary Clinton: People Have the Right to Believe They ‘Possess the One and Only Truth’

By Elizabeth Harrington | July 30, 2012 | 8:55 PM EDT

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chats to her Saudi and Kuwati counterparts at a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council forum in Riyadh on Saturday, March 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

(CNSNews.com) – In a speech devoted to religious liberty to mark the release Monday of her department’s annual report on international religious freedom, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton twice appeared to discount belief in a “one and only truth.”

Clinton said there was “pressure rising” on religious freedom across the globe and cited challenges with transitioning governments in the Middle East, before criticizing regimes that block religious freedom and even condemn to death those that do not “belong to the right faith.”

“Because this is an issue that inflames emotions, it can be hard to talk about it constructively,” she said in remarks delivered at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C.

“You can’t debate someone who believes that anyone who disagrees with him by definition disagrees with God,” Clinton said. “So let me simply say this:  people can believe that they and only those like them possess the one and only truth. That’s their right.

“Though they do not have the right to harm those they think harbor incorrect views,” she continued. “But their societies pay a cost when they choose to look at others with hate or disgust.”

Clinton then said the way to “religious harmony” is through “tolerance and respect.”

“Human rights become real not only in interactions between citizens and their governments but also in those millions of ordinary moments among neighbors and classmates, coworkers, even strangers on the street,” she said.

“Every time people choose tolerance and respect over fear and animosity they strengthen human rights for themselves, as well as everyone else because they affirm their shared humanity,” Clinton added.  “That’s how religious freedom subscribed in law becomes religious harmony, flourishing throughout a society.”

Answering a question from the audience about terrorism and religious extremism, the secretary again appeared to question the notion of one “right way to believe,” saying conflicts arise not only between religions, but also within them.

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“Now there will always be people in nearly every society who are going to believe that God is talking right to them and saying, ‘You know what you really need to do is overthrow the government.  What you really need to do is to kill the unbelievers,’” Clinton said. “There will be people like that.”

She continued:  “But we’re talking about organizing society for the vast majority of people, having people who exercise their religious beliefs lawfully, protected by the law, and people who engage in violence, harassment, intimidation or other anti-social criminal behavior punished by the law.  But one should not be punished or harassed merely because who one is or what one believes, unless there are actions associated with that.

“And that often is the difficult rub in many areas where we talk about religious freedom,” Clinton said.

“It’s not just religions against one another, it is even within religions, within Christianity, within Judaism, within, you know, Islam, within Hinduism – there are people who believe their version of that religion is the only right way to believe.”

Clinton’s remarks came following the State Department’s release Monday of the 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom.