Congress Passes Bill Aimed at Addressing Worldwide Religious Persecution

By Lauretta Brown | December 14, 2016 | 10:00 AM EST

(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The House Tuesday passed the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, a bill designed to “advance religious freedom globally,” following approval by the Senate last week and is now headed to the president’s desk.

The bipartisan bill, authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), aims to “advance religious freedom globally through enhanced diplomacy, training, counterterrorism, and foreign assistance efforts, and through stronger and more flexible political responses to religious freedom violations and violent extremism worldwide.”

The legislation requires that the secretary of state “establish and maintain a list of foreign individuals to whom a consular post has denied a visa on the grounds of particularly severe violations of religious freedom” or “who are subject to financial sanctions or other measures for particularly severe violations of freedom religion.”

It also would amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) requiring that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) “make publicly available, to the extent practicable, online and in official publications, lists of persons it determines are imprisoned or detained, have disappeared, been placed under house arrest, been tortured, or subjected to forced renunciations of faith for their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy by the government of a foreign country that the Commission recommends for designation as a country of particular concern for religious freedom.”

It includes a requirement of international religious freedom training for all Foreign Service Officers and also requires that the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom report directly to the secretary of state.

The bill calls for an integration of “United States international religious freedom policies and strategies into the foreign policy efforts of the United States.”

The bill was introduced in February 2015 and initially passed the House in May 2016. Its purpose is to upgrade the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, giving the administration and the State Department new resources to help combat the worldwide escalation in persecution of religious minorities.

“From China and Vietnam to Syria and Nigeria, we are witnessing a tragic, global crisis in religious persecution, violence and terrorism, with dire consequences for religious believers and for U.S. national security,” Smith, chair of the Global Human Rights Subcommittee, commented in a statement.

“Ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria are on the verge of extinction and other religious minorities in the Middle East face a constant assault from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” Smith said.

“The freedom to practice a religion without persecution is a precious right for everyone, of whatever race, sex, or location on earth,” Smith added. “This human right is enshrined in our own founding documents, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and has been a bedrock principle of open and democratic societies for centuries.”

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