House Approves International Religious Freedom Legislation

While debates were intense related to domestic religious liberty, the U.S. House of Representatives thankfully acted in a bipartisan fashion this week to strengthen America’s international religious freedom efforts. The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (H.R. 1150), sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), sailed through the chamber unanimously.

Named for former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who was recognized by NRB in 2014 as a champion for life and liberty, this bill makes a number of organizational and procedural changes to strengthen international religious freedom work at the U.S. State Department. For example, this legislation would make the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom report directly to the Secretary of State. It also calls for Foreign Service Officers to be trained in the “strategic value of international religious freedom,” and it toughens country watch list designations and makes a category for non-state actors.

Following passage of the legislation, Rep. Smith said, “A robust religious freedom diplomacy is necessary to advance U.S. interests in stability, security, and economic development. Where there is more religious freedom, there is more economic freedom, more women’s empowerment, more political stability, more freedom of speech, and less terrorism.” Likewise, Rep. Eshoo lauded this “upgrade… to better address the religious freedom and violent extremism problems being experienced in the 21st century.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the sponsor of a similar bill in the U.S. Senate. That legislation is currently in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: May 20, 2016

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