ICC Note: In this excellent and insightful article by Dr. Thomas Farr, the case is laid out for how the United States has failed over the past five years to promote religious freedom through its foreign policy in any strategic or comprehensive way. The case is also made for the vital importance of religious freedom in building stable societies, prosperous economies, and countering violent religious extremism. Finally, concrete steps for the president and members of congress to take in addressing these issues with US foreign policy are made. For the full article, please click on the links at the start or end of this page.
By Thomas F. Farr
9/14/2014 United States (Witherspoon Institute) – The Obama administration has failed to advance the cause of international religious liberty, and that failure has endangered American national security. But there are concrete steps Congress can take to improve implementation of the International Religious Freedom Act. Adapted from testimony delivered before the National Security Sub-Committee of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, September 18, 2014.
n the sixteen years since the passage, in 1998, of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), this is—to my knowledge—the only committee of Congress that has held hearings solely on the question of how the Department of State has implemented that law. I heartily endorse the recommendation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, made in its 2014 Annual Report, that Congress hold annual oversight hearings on IRFA.
I hope this Committee’s action is a sign of increased congressional interest in how the State Department is doing its job—or not doing it, as the case may be. Events in the Middle East and elsewhere certainly warrant congressional oversight of US religious freedom policy, especially its potential role in the increasingly urgent question of defending American national security.
I address three questions: First, given the status of religious freedom in the world, how has the current administration implemented IRFA during its approximately six years in office? Second, how can US IRF policy be employed to advance American national security? Third, the president has nominated Rabbi David Saperstein as the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. How can Rabbi Saperstein be empowered to succeed in a field where others have had precious little success? In particular, what can the Congress do?
Implementation of IRFA by the Obama Administration: No Strategy, No Results
Let me begin by giving credit where credit is due. There are in the State Department officials who care deeply about US International Religious Freedom policy, and who have worked assiduously to support and improve it. Their efforts have not been unavailing.