Thursday, December 15, 2016

Congress Strengthens International Religious Freedom Act

On Tuesday, Congress gave final passage to H.R. 1150, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (full text). The bill, which amends the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, is summarized in a press release by Rep. Chris Smith, the bill's sponsor:
The bill will improve U.S. religious freedom diplomacy efforts globally; better train and equip diplomats to counter extremism; address anti-Semitism and religious persecution and mitigate sectarian conflict.  The bill:
  • Creates a “Designated Persons List” for individuals who commit egregious violations of religious freedom
  • Creates a comprehensive religious prisoners list—persons who are detained, imprisoned, tortured and subject to forced renunciation of faith.
  • Integrates religious freedom into every aspect of U.S. foreign policy
  • Strengthens the Special Advisor for religious freedom at the National Security Council
  • Requires international religious freedom training for all Foreign Service Officers
  • Requires that the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom report directly to the Secretary of State
  • Elevates the position of the ambassador within the federal government
  • Creates an “Entity of Particular Concern” designation for non-state actors like terrorist groups
  • Requires more frequent presidential actions to counter severe religious freedom violations globally
  • Creates a “Special Watch List”—two tier system at State (CPC countries/Special Watch List)
  • Sets congressional expectations for staffing of the IRF office and expansion of Religious Freedom Program grants
The bill also provides:
The freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs and the right not to profess or practice any religion.
The bill now goes to the President for his signature.