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10/25/2023 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) –  Friday, October 27 marks 25 years since President Bill Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) into law, establishing international religious freedom as a foreign policy priority of the United States and creating a robust government structure around its advancement. The decades since have seen many challenges to religious freedom around the world, highlighting IRFA’s importance and illustrating the need for the United States as a defender of the right to follow one’s conscience freely. 

Among other actions, IRFA created two parallel government bodies to monitor and evaluate the state of international religious freedom—the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and the Office of International Religious Freedom at the Department of State. USCIRF serves in a watchdog-type role, surveying the global landscape and crafting recommendations for the Office of International Religious Freedom, which studies the issue itself and annually designates a list of countries and entities for their particularly severe violations. 

Both USCIRF and the Office of Religious Freedom issue annual reports, with USCIRF focusing on a handful of countries it recommends for Country of Particular Concern (CPC) or Special Watchlist (SWL) status. The Office of Religious Freedom publishes an annual report surveying the state of religious freedom in every country in the world outside of the United States. 

In creating USCIRF and the Office of Religious Freedom, IRFA ensured that international religious freedom would enjoy an enduring presence in the internal workings of the U.S. government. This commitment has consistently borne fruit, ensuring that the plight of religious prisoners, marginalized minorities, and oppressed religious communities around the world are given a voice and advocated for on the international stage. 

For religious prisoners jailed for their faith and often held indefinitely in the worst imaginable conditions, public advocacy from USCIRF and intense, private diplomacy from the Department of State have frequently led to favorable outcomes. Nguyen Bac Truyen, a high-profile Vietnamese prisoner of conscience, was released on September 8, 2023, just a few days before a visit to the country by President Joe Biden and after years of consistent advocacy on his behalf by USCIRF and others. 

Around the world, religious minority communities live in fear for their lives and well-being. Whether in Nigeria, where radical Islamic militancy wreaks havoc on Christian communities, or in India, where nationalist Hindu mobs harass and attack peaceful Muslims and Christians, much of the world lives in fear because of violent opposition to their faith. 

International Christian Concern has long been proud to work with a widespread constellation of nonprofit organizations and government bodies dedicated to advancing religious freedom around the world. Their collective effort has helped to better the lives of many and continues to be a critical work to this day. 

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