U.S. Government Continues to Push for International Religious Freedom
(Minghui.org) An executive order to advance international religious freedom was issued by United States President Donald Trump on June 2, 2020. This follows his May 3, 2018, executive order that emphasized the role of faith-based organizations and community organizations in strengthening U.S. society.
“We applaud President Trump for continuing to prioritize international religious freedom as a national security imperative and a foreign policy priority,” stated Tony Perkins, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), also on June 2, 2020. “This Executive Order encourages swift action by the U.S. government to hold accountable foreign governments that commit severe violations and substantially increases U.S. economic assistance to support programs that advance religious freedom around the world.”
The most recent annual report from USCIRF, published on April 28, 2020, again designated China as a “Country of Particular Concern” for its systematic and severe suppression of religious freedom. The report mentioned the persecution of Falun Gong in China, including the forced organ harvesting from living Falun Gong practitioners.
Summary of the Executive Order
The latest executive order, which is available on the White House website, contains eight sections, starting with the motivation for the order: “Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative. Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the United States, and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom.”
The order called religious communities and organizations, as well as other institutions of civil society, critical partners in the U.S. government's efforts to advance religious freedom worldwide.
The U.S. Secretary of State is expected to work with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop a plan in the next 180 days to “prioritize international religious freedom in the planning and implementation of United States foreign policy and in the foreign assistance programs of the Department of State and USAID.” In addition to a funding of $50 million per year that supports related programs, the executive order ensures that faith-based and religious entities are not discriminated against when competing for federal funding.
The order authorized the Secretary of State to direct Chiefs of Mission in countries of particular concern to develop comprehensive action plans. This includes countries that “have engaged in or tolerated violation of religious freedom as noted in the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom required by section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-292).”
In addition, Department of State employees will receive training and economic tools will be evaluated to advance religious freedom in countries mentioned above. “These economic tools may include, as appropriate and to the extent permitted by law, increasing religious freedom programming, realigning foreign assistance to better reflect country circumstances, or restricting the issuance of visas under section 604(a) of the Act.”
Furthermore, “The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, may consider imposing sanctions under Executive Order 13818 of December 20, 2017 (Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption), which, among other things, implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Public Law 114-328).”
Joint Efforts by the U.S. Government
In addition to his executive orders, President Trump also spoke about religious freedom at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019.
The president's speech highlights the U.S. Government’s strong support on this matter. “Normally when you have international events associated with religious freedom, they’re (attended by) low people in the diplomatic echelon,” said Kristina Arriaga, a former commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in an interview with the Deseret News.
Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-large on International Religious Freedom, reiterated the U.S. government's commitment to religious freedom. As he was quoted in the Deseret News article, “You had to get an administration that wanted to really push (religious freedom) and that’s what this one does and is.”
Other than the executive branch, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) released its 2019 report on January 2020, describing the worsened human rights and rule of law conditions in China.
The report cited Minghui.org as reporting that at least 69 Falun Gong practitioners died as a result of the persecution by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and at least 931 Falun Gong practitioners were unlawfully sentenced to prison in 2018.
The report also recommended that the United States hold accountable the individual CCP officials who have violated human rights such as freedom of belief by implementing financial sanctions or the refusal of visas. The U.S. government should clearly distinguish between “the Chinese people and culture” and “the Chinese government and the Communist Party.”