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President Obama Signs International Religious Freedom Bill Co-Sponsored by Senator Lankford

WASHINGTON, DC – On Friday, President Obama signed the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, a bill co-sponsored by Senator James Lankford (R-OK). The law aims to strengthen the United States’ effort to combat persecution of religious minorities around the world.

“Religious freedom is more than an American right; it is a human right,” said Lankford. “The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act is needed to help prevent the persecution of religious minorities around the world, and I am pleased that the President has signed it into law. As a world leader for freedom and the protection of basic human rights, the United States should take every opportunity to advocate for people to think, believe, and act according to their religious belief, whether they belong to a minority or majority religion.”

The House of Representatives passed this bill (HR 1150) on December 13 and the Senate on December 10. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) sponsored the House version of the bill. The bill is named after former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who was the co-chair of the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan commission that studies and advocates for international human rights. Mr. Wolf is now Chair of Religious Freedom at Baylor University, and he is also a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, an international religious freedom advocacy group. In addition to addressing persecution, the bill’s overall focus is to ensure that advancing and protecting religious freedom around the world is a fundamental part of the foreign policy objectives of the United States.

The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act:

• Elevates the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom so he reports directly to the Secretary of State;

• Calls for the integration of international religious freedom into the foreign policy of the US;

• Provides for mandatory religious freedom training of foreign service officers, with curriculum being developed by the Ambassador-at-Large;

• Provides for coordination between the Ambassador and the National Security Council; and

• Provides for the designation of non-state actors as countries of particular concern.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2016 report claims that numerous countries, including China, Burma, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, among others, continue to imprison, torture and persecute religious minority communities, including Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists. The 2016 report said, “The incarceration of prisoners of conscience – people whom governments hold for reasons including those related to religion – remains astonishingly widespread, occurring in country after country, and underscores the impact of the laws and policies that led to their imprisonment.” According to the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, five billion people around the world face religious persecution and one-third live in places where religious freedom is severely restricted.

Lankford serves as the co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, which works to protect the fundamental human right of religious freedom in America and around the world. In May 2015, a Lankford-sponsored Trade Promotion Authority religious freedom-related amendment (#1237) passed the Senate unanimously. It requires the Administration to take religious freedom into account whenever negotiating trade agreements.