USA (MNN) — Under a 1998 law, religious freedom is supposed to influence U.S. foreign policy. As described here, the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) establishes the right to choose what you believe as “a universal human right and fundamental freedom.”
It also requires U.S. leaders to factor religious freedom into their dealings with international parties. In other words, the President and Congress must consider how a country treats its various religious entities and adjust how the U.S. interacts with said nation.
An annual report released today by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) serves as a tangible reminder of IRFA’s importance. Voice of the Martyrs’ Todd Nettleton explains, “One of the great things about the report is it becomes a point on the calendar where we know our government is going to talk about religious freedom.
“As an aim of U.S. foreign policy, we want to promote religious freedom in countries around the world.”
However, IRFA’s intent and how the law is applied are often two different things.
USCIRF report and foreign policy
IRFA’s passage resulted in two new federal positions – the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and the Special Adviser on International Religious Freedom. It also created the aforementioned USCIRF.
The USCIRF is an independent bipartisan committee, but it also advises top-level officials like the President and Secretary of State. Do authorities heed that advice and change foreign policy? Usually not, as noted in this blog by The Lawfare Institute.
Nettleton says application depends on the current administration and the country in question. “China comes immediately to mind,” he observes.
“China has been a Country of Particular Concern every year that the State Department has issued the report, yet the trade goes forward and there never really has been significant ‘teeth’ put into that designation.”
Regardless of government action or inaction, Nettleton says the 2019 USCIRF report is a call to prayer. “The countries that are Tier 1… Tier 2 countries – those are countries where our Christian brothers and sisters are being persecuted,” he notes.
“As Christians it reminds us to pray, but I hope as Americans – whatever our religious background – it reminds us we ought to be thankful for the freedom and liberty that we enjoy by virtue of being born in America or by virtue of having come to America.”
You can also find your representative here and contact that person. Mention this article and ask him or her to make religious freedom a priority. Then, share this word on social media and ask your friends to do the same.
“In a democracy, we have a voice and we can let our government representatives know that we actually do want to see [them] ‘put some teeth’ to these [CPC] designations,” Nettleton says.
“If enough voters call representatives and say, ‘this is important to me,’ that tends to help our government make it a priority.”
Header image depicts a statute for religious freedom in Virginia. Photo credit: KG Hawes via Flickr/Creative Commons.