Lankford Praises Annual Work to Highlight and Eliminate International Religious Persecution

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today praised the release of the 2019 International Religious Freedom (IRF) Report. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious freedom Sam Brownback today announced the annual report’s release and highlighted several examples of positive steps taken internationally to ensure religious freedom for all people of faith around the world. The State Department submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to describe the status of religious freedom in every country.

“The annual release of the International Religious Freedom Report offers us an opportunity to look at other nations’ work—or lack thereof—toward eliminating barriers for religious freedom and helps the US government assess our role in addressing religious freedom concerns worldwide,” said Lankford. “While the report highlights positive steps in some areas of the world, nations like China, Russia, and Vietnam continue to persecute people of faith and stifle the free exercise of religion. Religious minorities in nations like these and others are often voiceless unless the US stands beside them to protect their right to have a faith, live their faith, change their faith, or have no faith at all. I look forward to continuing to examine diplomatic solutions to the issues people of faith face in countries of concern.”

The 2019 report cites that China continues to persecute numerous faiths throughout the country, and “authorities closed or destroyed Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Jewish, and other houses of worship and destroyed public displays of religious symbols throughout the country.” The report also cites that “Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners reported severe societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities.”

In Russia, where the nation has identified Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the tradition religions, the report says that throughout 2019, Jehovah’s Witnesses were labelled “extremist, and their activities were banned and criminalized, including “raiding homes, seizing personal property, detaining hundreds of suspected members, and sentencing individuals to prison.” The report also points out that authorities “fined a Buddhist man for organizing a meditation meeting at a boathouse without a permit, and a Baptist pastor for publicly baptizing a new congregant in a river.”

The report cites that tensions in Vietnam between the government and religious groups continued and that, “State-run media and progovernment websites sometimes equated particular Christian denominations and other religious groups, notably Falun Gong, with separatist movements, blaming them for political, economic, and social problems.”

Last week, Lankford applauded President Trump’s Executive Order to advance international religious freedom. In December, Lankford also called for the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws.