Senate Unanimously Approves Religious Freedom Amendment in Trade Bill

Capitol Dome Credit DliffWASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate approved an amendment to a trade bill this past week that requires the president to take religious freedom into consideration when making international trade agreements.

U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) proposed Amendment 1237 to the “Trade Promotion Authority Bill” to require the executive branch of government—which includes the president, vice president and the presidential cabinet—to “take into account conditions relating to religious freedom of any party to negotiations for a trade agreement with the United States.”

He spoke on the Senate floor on Monday about the reason why he presented the amendment.

“When we trade, we not only exchange goods, we exchange ideas and values,” Lankford said. “I have been told over and over again that we don’t talk about religious freedom in our trade negotiations. I have just asked, why not? We should encourage trade with another country when that country acknowledges our basic value of the dignity of every person to live their own faith.”

He said that it is the duty of government to uphold God-given inalienable rights.

“Governments were created to protect the rights given to us by God,” Lankford stated. “We believe every person should have the protection of government to live their faith, not the compulsion of government to practice any one faith or to be forced to reject all faith altogether.”

“That is one of the reasons Americans are disturbed by the trend in our courts, our military, and our public conversation,” he continued. “It is not the task of government to purge religious conversation from public life; it is the task of government to protect the rights of every person to live their faith and to guard those who choose not to have any faith at all.”

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The amendment was approved as an addition to the bill 92-0.

As previously reported, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its annual religious freedom report last month, finding an “alarming” increase in global persecution over the past year.

“Humanitarian crises fueled by waves of terror, intimidation, and violence have engulfed an alarming number of countries in the year since the release of [USCIRF’s] prior annual report last May,” the commission wrote. “The horrors of the past year speak volumes about how and why religious freedom and the protection of the rights of vulnerable religious communities matter.”

While the report focused mainly on the persecution of Christians and other religious groups at the hand of ISIS and Boko Haram, it also recommended that the State Department add eight nations to its list of “countries of particular concern,” including the Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The commission additionally urged the Obama administration to work toward promoting religious freedom in countries such as China, Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia, and added Cuba, India, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Russia to its watch list.

“All nations should care about abuses beyond their borders, not only for humanitarian reasons, but because what goes on in other nations rarely remains there,” said USCIRF Chair Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett in a statement. “In the long run, there is only one permanent guarantor of the safety, security and survival of the persecuted and vulnerable. It is the full recognition of religious freedom.”

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