U.S. State Department Statement on Cuban Religious Freedom  


Shaun Casey
Shaun Casey

On July 6 and 7, Shaun Casey, the U.S. Special Representative for [the Office of] Religion and Global Affairs at the State Department, visited Cuba to explore religious life on the island.[1]

After visiting with the leadership of the Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church, other churches (Baptist, Evangelical, Presbyterian, Mormon, Assemblies of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Santeria, and Protestant house churches) as well as Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths, Casey said he had witnessed “firsthand the vibrancy, dynamism, and diversity of the country’s religious communities.”

These rich conversations had “helped broaden the State Department’s understanding of the religious history, dynamics, demographics, and growth trends, as well as continued challenges in Cuba.” He learned “that the religious climate in Cuba has improved over the past decade and a half,” that some “challenges still exist for Cuban religious communities,” but that “change is a process that will not happen overnight, . . .[and] progress is happening.”

Casey also was impressed with Cuban appreciation of the re-establishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations and eagerness “for people-to-people connections to continue to strengthen and flourish between their country and the [U.S.].”

At the same time, Casey observed that “the U.S. government remains convinced that religious groups would be best served by a genuine democracy that includes an ability to freely profess and practice a religion (or no religion at all).”


[1] Casey, Religion in Cuba: Diverse, Vibrant, and Dynamic, DipNote (July 19, 2016).  This blog has frequently commented on religious freedom in Cuba. (See “Cuban Freedom of Religion” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: Cuba.)

New U.S. Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives

On August 7, 2013, the U.S. Department of State announced its formation of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives as “the [U.S.] portal for engagement with religious leaders and organizations around the world . . . [to ensure] that their voices are heard in the policy process and [to work] with those communities to advance U.S. diplomacy and development objectives.”

John Kerry
John Kerry

In making this announcement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “there is common ground between the Abrahamic faiths, and, in fact, between the Abrahamic faiths and all religions and philosophies. . . . All of these faiths are virtuous and in fact, most of them, tied together by the golden rule, as well as fundamental concerns about the human condition, about poverty, about relationships between peoples, our responsibilities each to each other. And they all come from the same human heart.”


The Director of the new Office is Dr. Shaun Casey, a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and a Senior Advisor for Religious Affairs and National Evangelical Coordinator for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

At the announcement of the new Office, Dr. Casey said, “religious leaders and faith communities . . . have an influence and shape our foreign policy concerns here in the [U.S., and it is] essential for the [U.S.] to understand them and to bring them into our diplomacy and diplomatic efforts.”

The Office already has a Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement to encourage “U.S. government officials to develop and deepen their relationships with religious leaders and faith communities . . . to advance the following objectives:”

  1. “Promote sustainable development and more effective humanitarian assistance.”
  2. “Advance pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom.”
  3. “Prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflict and contribute to local and regional stability and security.”

The executive branch of the U.S. federal government also has the following other agencies or offices relating to religion and faith-based communities:

  • The State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, which is headed by an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, who serves as the principal advisor to both the President of the U.S. and Secretary of State for Religious Freedom globally.
  • The State Department’s Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, who since 2004 has developed and implemented policies and projects to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism.
  • The State Department’s Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, who since 2010 has sought to deepen and expand U.S. partnerships with OIC member countries and Muslim communities around the world.
  • U.S. Agency for International Development’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which provides “a bridge for faith-based and community groups seeking to connect with USAID’s mission, . . . [convenes] faith-based and community groups to catalyze new opportunities for collaboration between these groups, and between these groups and the government [and helps] to eliminate barriers encountered by faith-based and community organizations seeking to partner with USAID on a range of global development issues, including global health, child survival and food security.”
  • The White House’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which “coordinates Centers for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in various federal agencies . . . . [and] coordinates the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.”