Date:                            March 11, 2024



Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) ended early an official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after authorities required the USCIRF delegation to leave the Diriyah UNESCO World Heritage Site in Riyadh when the USCIRF Chair, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, refused their requests that he remove his religious head covering (kippah).

The Saudi government had invited the delegation, led by Chair Cooper and Vice Chair Reverend Frederick A. Davie, to tour the site on March 5, as part of their official visit to the country that had started on March 3. After several delays to the tour, officials requested that Cooper, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, remove his kippah while at the site and anytime he was to be in public, even though the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs had approved the site visit. U.S. Embassy staff accompanying the USCIRF delegation supported and conveyed to Saudi officials Chair Cooper’s polite but resolute refusal to remove the kippah. Despite their efforts, site officials escorted the delegation off the premises after Chair Cooper indicated he sought no confrontation or provocation but as an observant Jew could not comply with a request to remove his kippah.

No one should be denied access to a heritage site, especially one intended to highlight unity and progress, simply for existing as a Jew,” said USCIRF Chair Cooper. “Saudi Arabia is in the midst of encouraging change under its 2030 Vision. However, especially in a time of raging antisemitism, being asked to remove my kippah made it impossible for us from USCIRF to continue our visit. We note, with particular regret, that this happened to a representative of a U.S. government agency promoting religious freedom. USCIRF looks forward to continuing conversations with the Saudi government about how to address the systematic issues that led to this troubling incident.”

Saudi officials’ request for Chair Cooper to remove his kippah was stunning and painful. It directly contradicted not only the government’s official narrative of change but also genuine signs of greater religious freedom in the Kingdom that we observed firsthand,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Davie. “We stand by our Chair and look forward to further discussions with our Saudi counterparts about protecting freedom of religion or belief for all. While we appreciate the various meetings we had in country with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Human Rights Commission, and other interlocuters, this unfortunate incident starkly illustrates that much more work remains to be done for Saudi Arabia to align with international legal protections guaranteeing this fundamental right.”

The key to real progress for all who seek peace is to remember that respect is a two-way street,” Chair Cooper and Vice Chair Davie added.

USCIRF has recommended the U.S. Department of State designate Saudi Arabia as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations every year since 2000, most recently in its 2023 Annual Report. The State Department has designated Saudi Arabia a CPC repeatedly since 2004, most recently in December 2023; however, it has issued waivers on taking any action as outlined in the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). As USCIRF has emphasized repeatedly, including in this recent publication, the right to religious freedom, as protected under international human rights law, includes the freedom to wear religious symbols and attire.


The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a commissioner, please contact USCIRF at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..