Religious Freedom: An Essential Tool of Statecraft

03/13/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Earlier this year, International Christian Concern convened a group of Washington D.C.-based experts to discuss the role of international religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy. The discussion began with a conversation about the broader U.S. foreign policy strategy and how religious freedom fits within it. It then turned to the key challenges facing the further expansion of international religious freedom around the world. Finally, each participant shared key policies which, if implemented, would serve to advance religious freedom around the world.

Several themes arose as the discussion progressed, including the need for the United States to lead on this issue and use whatever influence it has to pressure other countries in the direction of religious freedom. The United States must be firm and consistent in its messaging and should remember the importance of religious freedom in its overall human rights strategy. Key policy recommendations can be found below, and the full report can be read and downloaded here.

Key Policy Recommendations

  • The U.S. needs to reassess when and for how long it grants exemptions from the consequences of being designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). The exceptions act as enablers to continued discrimination against religious minorities. The consequences of a CPC designation are intended to deter further persecution and encourage broader behavior change for the state in question.
  • The U.S. should employ more mechanisms like the Global Magnitsky Act to keep violators of human and religious freedom rights accountable. Both governmental and non-governmental perpetrators should be singled out by these sanctions.
  • The United States should leverage existing aid to put pressure on countries known for religious persecution. Foreign aid is a key U.S. diplomatic export, and behavior change is unlikely as long as it flows to offending countries.
  • Greater institutionalization of the international religious freedom structure in the background of the U.S. foreign policy structure. While the 1998 Religious Freedom Act ensures some degree of institutionalization there is need for more progress, including in the training of U.S. foreign diplomats to identify persecution issues.
  • The U.S. should deepen partnerships with a broad array of civil society, faith-based, non-faith-based, and human rights groups on the issue. By doing so, the U.S. will be able to respond better and more proactively to the situation on the ground facing religious minorities and other believers when their rights are violated.

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