After the halls of the Capitol quieted last month, one bill to strengthen America’s international religious freedom efforts was thankfully put on a bipartisan fast-track before the official end of the 114th Congress. The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) in the House and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and John Cornyn (R-TX) in the Senate, sailed to President Obama’s desk, where it was signed into law as Christmas neared.
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.
Reflecting on the great need for this legislation, Rep. Smith earlier in the year remarked, “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.”
Upon the bill’s passage, Rep. Eshoo said, “As the daughter of Christians who fled persecution in the Middle East, the importance of religious freedom is interwoven in the history of my family as it is in the history of the United States. The freedom of religion embodied in the First Amendment is one of the most important and foundational rights in our country and it is what makes our nation a shining beacon of freedom and tolerance for the entire world.”
Similarly, Sen. Rubio stated, “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. 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.”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: January 6, 2017