Religious liberty advocates have applauded President Trump’s new executive order to promote “America’s first freedom” globally.
In observance of National Religious Freedom Day in January 2020, President Donald Trump hosted a gathering of students from different religions. Screen capture from C-Span archives.
Describing religious freedom as “a moral and national security imperative,” the president issued Tuesday (June 2) an order that calls for the prioritization of international religious liberty in United States foreign policy and at least $50 million a year for programs that boost freedom for religious adherents worldwide.
“Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the United States, and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom,” according to the executive order.
Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said in written comments, “Advancing international religious freedom is a long-held priority of the ERLC because it is a long held passion of Southern Baptists.
“There is much good United States foreign policy has done, and this executive order will further equip Ambassador [Sam] Brownback and our American diplomats to continue to advance the fundamental human right of religious freedom.”
Brownback is the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) “has long called on the U.S. government to develop an overall strategy for promoting religious freedom abroad, as well as country-specific action plans, and we welcome the fact” this executive order requires “exactly that,” USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin said in a written release.
USCIRF, a bipartisan panel selected by the president and congressional leaders, tracks the status of religious liberty worldwide and issues reports to Congress, the White House and the State Department.
Kelsey Zorzi, Alliance Defending Freedom International’s director of global religious freedom, said the executive order “ensures that religious freedom will be thoroughly incorporated into U.S. foreign policy. It is a much-needed boost to efforts to protect everyone’s inalienable right to religious freedom.”
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a Southern Baptist, commended the Trump administration’s record on global religious liberty and said the new order “continues to advocate for America’s engagement in an even more meaningful way.”
The executive order requires the secretary of state to consult with the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development to plan for prioritizing international religious freedom in foreign policy and assistance programs. Its requirement of at least $50 million a year for pro-religious liberty programs includes efforts to prevent attacks against individuals and groups based on their religion and improve security at houses of worship.
Other mandates among the executive order’s requirements are the:
— Integration of religious liberty into American diplomacy in foreign countries, including raising concerns about people imprisoned because of their religious beliefs;
— International religious freedom training of more foreign service officials at least once every three years.
— Prioritization of economic tools — including restrictions on visas
— to further religious liberty in countries where the most severe persecution occurs.
In its annual report in late April, USCIRF commended the Trump administration’s work on global religious freedom in 2019 and early 2020, including: The State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington; the establishment of the International Religious Freedom Alliance; and the appointment of the first senior director for international religious freedom on the National Security Council.
The commission urged the administration, however, to stop the practice of using pre-existing sanctions for “countries of particular concern” (CPC), a category reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious liberty. USCIRF called for the administration to take targeted action on each CPC “to demonstrate meaningful consequences and encourage positive change.”
Under U.S. law, the president has various means for penalizing countries on the CPC list.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.