WASHINGTON — Congress passed a bill this week that aims to give the White House and State Department improved tools to address religious persecution worldwide.
The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act had been introduced in the House last year by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and then in the Senate this year by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The bi-partisan-backed bill first passed the House in May and then came before the Senate this month, where it passed unanimously.
It is named after former Congressman Frank Wolf, who first helmed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, and is stated to expand upon his work.
“America was founded in part by people fleeing religious persecution, and the U.S. has a moral responsibility to be a champion for oppressed people around the world,” Rubio said on Tuesday following the passage of the measure. “When it comes to universal human rights that must be respected, few are more fundamental to the human spirit than the freedom to live out your faith according to your conscience, without fear of persecution, violence or imprisonment.”
“But this right is under assault in every corner of the globe, and we must do more to defend it and counter the vicious attacks on religious minorities,” he stated. “People of faith around the world routinely find themselves in the crosshairs, not only of repressive and authoritarian states, but also of non-state actors like ISIL and Boko Haram.”
“From China and Vietnam to Syria and Nigeria, we are witnessing a tragic, global crisis in religious persecution, violence and terrorism, with dire consequences for religious believers and for U.S. national security,” Smith, chair of the Global Human Rights Subcommittee, also remarked.
The bill requires the government to create a list of those who are detained or imprisoned for their faith, as well as a list of those who commit egregious violations of religious liberty. It also mandates religious freedom training for all foreign service officers, and that the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom report directly to the secretary of state.
“In order to promote religious freedom as a U.S. foreign policy interest, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom: (1) shall coordinate international religious freedom policies across all U.S. programs and activities, and (2) is urged to participate in any interagency processes in which the promotion of international religious freedom policy can advance U.S. national security interests,” a summary of H.R. 1150 reads in part.
The measure likewise requires the president to publish in the federal register “any designation of a non-state actor as an entity of particular concern for religious freedom, and the identities of individuals responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by non-state actors.”
The bill has now been sent to the desk of Barack Obama, who has not yet indicated whether or not he will sign the legislation.
“Wherever assaults on religious freedom occur, America has a moral responsibility to speak up and to act,” Rubio said.
As previously reported, just last month, Christians in over 100 countries observed the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church by joining together to intercede for those who daily suffer for their faith in Jesus Christ.