Vision Logo Circle
Vision Logo Circle

Is Religious Freedom Act A Paper Tiger?

by | Sun, Nov 5 2023

Text size: A- A+

The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) has just marked its 25th anniversary. It was signed into law by American President Bill Clinton in 1998. It was supposed to prioritise religious freedom in US foreign policy and take action against those who violated the law, but some Christian organisations believe it’s turning out to be a paper tiger.

Todd Nettleton from The Voice of the Martyrs (VoM) told Mission Network News (MNN):  “The IRFA prioritised religious freedom in United States foreign policy and created two government bodies that advance religious freedom worldwide. Firstly, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issues an annual report and watches religious freedom issues around the world. Secondly, the Office of Religious Freedom in the US State Department makes the designations of Countries of Particular Concern or Entities of Particular Concern.

MNN reports that: “While prioritising religious freedom on paper or principle is not the same as upholding it in action, it is a necessary first step. From there, it is up to authorities to use notices of religious freedom violations to take action against the offending countries or entities.”

Todd Nettleton observed: “It’s not something government officials are talking about. The law established a toolbox for the administration to use; you can sanction a foreign government because of repeated persecution of religious minorities. But most administrations have been hesitant to use those tools.”

Mr. Nettleton called for prayer that US government officials would be more proactive in protecting religious minorities, and that more advocates for the persecuted church would pressure them to act.

The chairmen of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) noted that in the 25 years since IRFA  was enacted, “restrictions on religious freedom have been steadily increasing” around the planet. “Sadly, 80% of the world’s inhabitants live in countries where there are high levels of governmental or societal restrictions on religion,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop David J. Malloy, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.

US President Joe Biden declared: “25 years ago, as a United States Senator, I proudly supported the International Religious Freedom Act — a landmark bipartisan law that cemented America’s commitment to promoting religious freedom around the world. This right to practice, pray, and preach our faiths peacefully and openly is enshrined in our Constitution. And today, in a moment of so much conflict and disagreement, we must renew our pledge to protect that right. It’s more important than ever.”

The president continued:

“Here at home, we are facing a rising tide of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of discrimination that are fueling violence and hate across our country. And, around the world, billions of people live in countries where they are either persecuted or prevented from freely choosing, practicing, teaching, or leaving their faith.”

“That’s especially true for members of religious minority communities who too often endure intimidation, violence, and unequal protection under the law, while also facing restrictions on their movement, constraints on their access to education and healthcare, and the fear that their children will be taken and their faith erased. We have seen attacks on Christians in some countries. And we also continue to see repressive governments and violent extremists reach across borders and to target groups for their beliefs in an abhorrent abuse of the human rights and dignity entitled to all people.”

“The United States will continue to defend religious freedom, today and always. In the wake of Hamas’s brutal terrorist assault against Israel, we are working with community partners to identify, prevent, and disrupt any threats that could harm the Jewish, Muslim, Arab American, Palestinian American, or any other communities.”

“Around the world, we have provided more than $100 million to promote religious freedom since the beginning of my Administration, and hundreds of millions more to provide life-saving, humanitarian assistance to victims fleeing religious repression, including genocide. We have imposed sanctions, visa restrictions, and export controls on actors and entities that are responsible for human rights abuses-including religious persecution.”

“Like so many others, faith has sustained me throughout my life — serving as a reminder of both our collective purpose and our responsibilities to one another. But for far too many people within our borders and beyond, practicing their faith still means facing fear. We rededicate ourselves to ensuring that people of all religions, and no religion, feel safe to live out their deepest convictions of conscience with dignity and respect,” the president concluded.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted: “Our Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain, and his team have been traveling the globe to address discriminatory laws and policies, advocate for those who’ve been unfairly targeted, and promote tolerance and respect.”

“We are joined in these efforts by a coalition of 37 countries – the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance.  People of all faiths and beliefs deserve to live free from fear and oppression.  The State Department and the entire United States government will continue standing for the right of every single person on Earth to worship and believe as they choose.”