Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act Passed in St. Nick of Time
Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much, but they agree on this: America needs to do more to stop the persecution of believers around the world. It’s a bipartisan cause — and this week, it got a bipartisan boost, as members on both sides of the aisle came together to pass a piece of legislation that is especially meaningful this time of year: the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act.
While our families make their way to candlelight services or Christmas morning worship, people all around the globe will be gathering in underground churches to celebrate the birth of Jesus — praying they won’t be arrested, or worse. Under the Obama administration, it’s been difficult — if not downright impossible — for the crisis to get any attention. Unfortunately for the suffering faithful around the world, the only human rights issues that seem to be taken seriously by the foreign policy of this administration are preceded by the letters “LGBT.” Meanwhile, millions of Christians and Jews are very literally in the crosshairs of everyone from ISIS to entire totalitarian governments, like China’s.
The bill passed Tuesday by the Senate would help restore America from its bruised reputation under Obama to the leading voice against the persecution of religious people abroad. For starters, the bill would beef up the tools at the State Department’s disposal for fighting this wave of oppression in nations abroad. Among other things, it would keep a running registry of people who are being held or imprisoned for their faith — as well as a watch list of the biggest religious liberty violators. In a major shift from the Obama years, Foreign Service officers would all be trained on the issue, and there would also be a greater emphasis placed on interagency coordination to make religious freedom a priority in all of America’s interests. Last — but certainly not least — the bill raises the profile of the ambassador-at-large for religious liberty by having the ambassador report directly to the secretary of state.
For House leader Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who has championed the issue since Congressman Frank Wolf retired, the victory in the Senate was an overdue tribute to the bill’s namesake. “It is largely because of [Wolf’s] efforts that religious freedom is taken seriously as a foreign policy issue. I had the distinct honor and pleasure of working with him for over 30 years. This bill is a fitting tribute to his work and service to our great nation.” Like us, he understands that religious liberty is about a lot more than faith. “A robust religious freedom diplomacy is necessary to advance U.S. interests in stability, security, and economic development,” Rep. Smith pointed out.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who sponsored the Senate measure, reminded everyone that “America was founded in part by people fleeing religious persecution, and the U.S. has a moral responsibility to be a champion for oppressed people around the world. When it comes to universal human rights that must be respected, few are more fundamental to the human spirit than the freedom to live out your faith according to your conscience, without fear of persecution, violence, or imprisonment. But this right is under assault in every corner of the globe, and we must do more to defend it and counter the vicious attacks on religious minorities.” Thanks to Congress, this is a giant step toward exactly that.
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