Biden Administration Shifts Focus Away from International Religious Freedom

04/28/2021 United States (International Christian Concern) – A rise in international religious persecution is expected as the Biden administration backs away from promoting religious freedom abroad, despite progress made by the Trump administration. In March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken overturned an executive order signed under the Trump administration that required federal agencies to “prioritize international religious freedom in the planning and implementation of United States foreign policy.”

The current administration is taking a broader approach and does not want to appear to be giving certain issues precedent over others. Lisa Peterson, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, claimed that there is a standalone report on international religious freedom separate from the 2020 country reports on human rights practices. While Peterson and her colleagues are “deeply concerned” about questions on religious freedom, they will have to focus on the bigger picture of human rights.

“Certainly you can look at examples and see where governments who have gone down a wrong road on religious freedom subsequently go down a wrong road on other issues,” Peterson said.

Olivia Enos, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, has expressed concern with the way the administration is handling its approach to the issue and has expressed that the decision to focus on the broader human rights issue would just “hamper its broader foreign policy interests and human rights commitments.

“I think it would be a huge mistake for the Biden administration not to build momentum from the work done by the Trump administration to promote religious freedom.” Enos said.

In addition to these calls, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the current administration to fill several key positions dedicated to religious freedom issues, such as the role of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, formerly held by Samuel Brownback. USCIRF continues to maintain that filling this vacant role would bolster the administration’s ability to address international religious freedoms violations in a more robust capacity and show that the U.S. is serious about addressing religious freedoms concerns worldwide.

Perhaps one instance of this current incapacity to address these issues lie in U.S. negotiations in the Middle East. Recent U.S. focuses on talks in Vienna with Iran over their nuclear program and meetings with the Israelis over unrest between Palestinians and the Israeli security forces have taken precedence over religious freedoms issues. While these issues are of vital importance to the U.S. and the international community, many urge the administration not to forget about religious freedoms issues in negotiations with such egregious violators as Iran, even as the focus shifts to more seemingly pressing concerns. The nomination of individuals into important religious freedoms positions will help ease some of the load on the administration while also ensuring that important issues in security and religious freedom can be addressed.

Although, as of yet, no public action has been taken for the nomination of individuals into these key positions, hope remains that the Biden administration will soon have an acceptable approach on religious freedom as it is inseparable from core values.

For interviews, contact Alison Garcia: press@persecution.org.

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