Executive Order Advances International Religious Freedom

06/04/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In a watershed moment for religious freedom advocates, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order directly addressing international religious freedom and detailing his administration’s strategy going forward. The order establishes what the Trump administration has termed the “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative,” which, according to the order, prioritizes religious freedom as a moral and national security imperative for the United States.

The executive order is intended to impact America’s strategy for securing religious freedom internationally by defining objectives and proposing concrete solutions; from the imposing of economic and diplomatic sanctions the upon international violators of religious freedom to integrating religious freedom advocacy into State Department policy and diplomatic missions.

The order allocates $50 million from the USAID budget to fund programs aimed at advancing the cause of international religious freedom. Programs will include efforts to detect and prevent imminent attacks on religious communities and funding measured reprisals against the perpetrators of such attacks.

Referencing the State Department’s existing mechanisms for tracking countries in violation of religious freedom, the order itself is more than a warning; it has teeth to enforce its demands. According to the order, reprisals against international violators will include diplomatic sanctions including the restriction of visas, and economic sanctions including the “realigning of foreign assistance.”

The order stipulates that diplomats on missions in countries known to be in violation of religious freedom are to prioritize the United States’ concern, and are to broach the subject of religious freedom directly with “their counterparts in foreign governments” detailing specific cases of oppression and injustice that must be addressed. Furthermore, the order stipulates that all Foreign Affairs employees in the Department of State are to undergo training on religious freedom issues.

The language of the executive order was inclusive yet defining; “all faiths” it says, are to be afforded “equal rights and legal protections.” Insofar as the American moral and national security imperative goes, the order reaffirms desire of the Trump administration “to improve the safety and security of houses of worship and public spaces for all faiths, and to protect and preserve the cultural heritages of religious communities.”

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement applauding the order, lauding it as a solidification of a multi-faceted effort to bring religious freedom to the forefront of the international conversation.

The order also acknowledges the efforts of independent religious communities and organizations that have aided the U.S. in forming pro religious freedom policies and thanks these same organizations for helping to advise the administration on the issue of religious freedom.

ICC is honored to advocate in Washington, D.C. for the persecuted church, and is exceptionally pleased with the way that this executive order helps to institutionalize the important issue of international religious freedom in the United States’ foreign policy.

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