By Ashley McGuire and Andrea Picciotti-Bayer

“It is a dangerous time to be a person of faith.”

These were the sobering words of Callista Gingrich, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, at an event sponsored by the Religious Freedom Institute during the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom sponsored by the State Department. But she went further, observing that “women and girls are uniquely vulnerable.”

Religious liberty has long been a second-class citizen in the human rights arena. Increasingly, its opponents at home place the term in air quotes, as if it were an invented concept. The consequences of this have been borne disproportionately by women, who suffer the most when religious liberty is violated and stand to gain in a particular way when it is safeguarded.

Recent atrocities committed in the name of religion – and at the expense of freedom of religion – make this abundantly clear. Nigerian girls continue to be vulnerable to being kidnapped by Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group in the north of the country. Those whose freedom was achieved by government rescue missions and the few schoolgirls who have escaped on their own, often carrying their newborns in their arms, recount terror beyond comprehension.

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