President Donald Trump today signed an Executive Order (EO) designed to advance international religious freedom through U.S. foreign policy. Specifically, the EO accomplishes three things:
– Budgets at least $50 million per year for programs that advance international religious freedom.
– Expands available economic tools in efforts to support allies on religious freedom, and address bad actors, whether by increasing religious freedom programming, realigning foreign assistance to better reflect country circumstances, restricting the issuance of visas, or deploying sanctions where appropriate.
– Mandates more federal employees who work abroad to undergo training on international religious freedom.
The EO stems from a September 2019 meeting of global leaders convened by the president at the United Nations General Assembly to address international religious freedom. At that meeting, the president called upon the nations of the world “to end religious persecution.”
The president’s order makes religious freedom an integral component of U.S. foreign policy. For example, the EO directs U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to come up with a plan for incorporating and prioritizing religious freedom into foreign assistance programs under the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
According to the Executive Order, ”Such programs shall include those intended to anticipate, prevent, and respond to attacks against individuals and groups on the basis of their religion, including programs designed to help ensure that such groups can persevere as distinct communities; to promote accountability for the perpetrators of such attacks; to ensure equal rights and legal protections for individuals and groups regardless of belief; to improve the safety and security of houses of worship and public spaces for all faiths; and to protect and preserve the cultural heritages of religious communities.”
The Secretary of the Treasury will be empowered under the EO to direct sanctions against countries guilty of violating the religious freedoms of their citizens, in accord with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. That law allows the executive branch to impose visa bans and targeted sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world responsible for committing human rights violations or acts of significant corruption.
The United States in the last few years has become a leader in promoting religious freedom around the world. For example, the State Department has hosted two consecutive Ministerials, which are conferences attended by the highest-ranking diplomats from countries across the globe to join together in an initiative to promote religious freedom.
This new EO provides the next step and the tools to use in helping make international religious freedom a reality for many regions that don’t enjoy it now.