Washington (AFP) - The US envoy on international religious freedom on Tuesday voiced concern about France, warning against "heavy-handed" measures as President Emmanuel Macron targets radical Islam.
"I am concerned, obviously, for what's happening in France," Ambassador Sam Brownback told reporters when asked about Macron's initiative.
"I think there can be constructive engagements that I think can be helpful and not harmful.
"When you get heavy-handed, the situation can get worse."
Macron has ordered a crackdown on extremism amid shock in France over the October 16 beheading of a teacher who showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice on October 29.
Under the initiative, France -- which is avowedly secular and home to Europe's largest Muslim population -- will shut down mosques if they are found during inspections by authorities to be promoting extremism.
Brownback condemned violent expressions of religion but said: "If you're peacefully practicing your faith, you're entitled to practice that faith."
"We think that countries do best when they work with religious leaders on identifying concerns and problem areas and not get into disagreements with religious groups," Macron said.
"They have their fundamental religious freedom rights and those need to be honored and protected by the government."
Macron's efforts have triggered protests in several Muslim-majority countries, with the leaders of Turkey and Pakistan alleging that he is attacking Islam as a whole.
Defenders of Macron have accused his critics of hypocrisy, pointing to severe repression of religious faith elsewhere in the world.
Religious freedom has been a major priority for President Donald Trump's administration, which counts on evangelical Christians as a base and has often been low-key about raising other human rights issues, especially with allies.
Brownback was speaking as he rolled out annual State Department designations of "Countries of Particular Concern" on religious freedom, with Nigeria added for the first time.
Other nations on the list include China, Iran and Pakistan.