Lankford’s Bipartisan Religious Freedom Amendment to Trade Promotion Authority Unanimously Passes Senate
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford’s (R-OK) Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) amendment (#1237) that promotes international religious freedom tonight passed the Senate unanimously by a vote of 92 to 0. The amendment adds a provision to the overall negotiating objectives outlined in TPA, requiring the Administration to take religious freedom into account whenever negotiating trade agreements. If signed into law, this would be the first time in history that religious freedom considerations would be a requisite for international trade discussions with other countries. The original co-sponsors of the amendment are Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), who is also Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Senator David Vitter (R-LA).
During a floor speech on the amendment earlier tonight, Lankford said, “Our greatest export is our American value. The dignity of each person, hard work, innovation, and liberty. That’s what we send around the world. It has the greatest impact.”
“We believe every person should have protection of the government to live their faith, not the compulsion of government to practice any one faith or to be forced to reject all faith altogether. It’s one of the reasons that Americans are disturbed by the trend in our courts and military and public conversation. It’s not the task of government to purge religious conversation from public life. It is the task of government to protect the rights of every person to live their faith and to guard those who choose not to have any faith at all.”
In its 2015 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the State Department redesignate China as a Country of Particular Concern, and urged the same designation for Vietnam, because these are countries where severe violations of religious freedom are perpetuated or tolerated by their respective communist regimes.
According to the report, in China, religious minorities continue to face arrests, imprisonment and the closure of places of worship. In Vietnam, at least 100-200 prisoners of conscience are detained for religious activity or advocacy of religious freedom. Vietnam is currently 1 of 11 other countries the U.S. is negotiating a Pacific trade agreement with.
Trade Promotion Authority legislation guides the Executive Branch in its pursuit of defining negotiating objectives and negotiating trade agreements. Congress retains the authority to review and decide whether any proposed U.S. trade agreement, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will be implemented.