“There’s a lot of substance to this,” says Isaac Six of Open Doors USA. “It really does prioritize religious freedom, and in sort of a new way.”
Six points out two ways this order helps religious freedom globally. “One is the increase, and it is an increase, of about $50 million per fiscal year towards programming for international religious freedom. That will go to the State Department and the US Agency for International Development. A portion of that is going to be spent in various countries around the world, trying to protect religious minorities and promote programs that bring religious freedom to these countries.”
Six says this amount of money being spent on religious freedom is something he hasn’t seen before.
This order also helps by requiring government officials working in countries of particular concern to do more about religious discrimination that just filing a report. “I’ll ask [them] ‘Have you connected with this church? Or do you know, what’s going on with that church?’ And they’ll say, ‘No, I’m sorry, I just don’t have time for it. We’re working on a lot of things here.’ This is a clear prioritization . . . and that’s going to mean meeting with faith leaders. It’s going to mean understanding what’s going on around them. Then that can help them to provide support, especially when there’s actually persecution taking place.”
Protection for only certain groups?
While the president may have political motivations for protecting Christians overseas, Six says, “The order itself is pretty careful with language to support people of any belief. A lot of people I work with in Washington, on the hill, USCIRF, and other agencies are mostly trying to go out of their way to make clear that they are standing up for religious freedom for everyone.”
That said, Six says government officials working on the ground in these countries will have to work hard to make sure they are supporting religious rights for all, not just a certain group. Christians can pray these leaders will take this order and turn it into action. If it is carried out well, Six thinks the order can help a lot of people globally.
The world has a long way to go in the struggle to promote religious freedom, Six says. “The vast majority of people do not live in countries where they are basically free to practice their faith.”
USCIRF keeps track of which countries abuse their citizens’ freedom to practice any religion they see fit. (Photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs USA on Facebook)