Kerry: Religious freedom is a "birthright"

Unveiling an annual report on the global status of religious freedom, Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday reinforced America's commitment to promoting freedom of religion worldwide, and pledged to push restrictive countries - including U.S. allies -- toward expanded rights even if it makes them "uncomfortable."

In brief remarks at the State Department briefing room, Kerry touted the annual report as a "clear-eyed, objective look at the state of religious freedom around the world" and a catalogue of "discrimination and violence in countries ranging from established democracies to entrenched dictatorships."

He stressed the historic American struggle for religious freedom, and acknowledged "we have at times had to push and work and struggle to fully live up to the promise of our founding."

Among the countries detailed in the report as restrictive of religious liberty include Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and several U.S. allies, like China and Russia. Kerry noted in his remarks that America's friends are not exempt from bad behavior in this department.

"It does directly call out some of our close friends" when necessary, Kerry said of the report, adding that it does so "in order to try and make progress even though we know it may cause some discomfort."

"The freedom to profess and practice one's faith to believe, or not to believe, or to change one's beliefs - that is a birthright of every human being," he said.

In remarks following Kerry's comments, ambassador-at-large Suzan Johnson Cook cited some progress in countries like Vietnam and Turkey in lightening some restrictions on religious freedom.

But, she said, the global struggle is far from over.

"The challenges are daunting but we remain committed to working tirelessly to ensuring religious freedom for all," Johnson Cook said.