By Office of Senator Marco Rubio –
For Immediate Release
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today introduced a bill which would give the State Department new tools to support the promotion of international religious freedom globally and counter the spread of violent extremism. The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act will upgrade the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to better address growing violations of religious freedom around the world today.
“Religious freedom has rightly been called America’s first freedom and must be given priority in our foreign policy agenda. This legislation brings the historic International Religious Freedom Act into the 21st century by giving this administration and future administrations the tools needed to defend this most basic human right,” said Rubio. “People of faith around the world routinely find themselves in the crosshairs, not only of repressive and authoritarian states, but also of non-state actors like ISIL and Boko Haram. Wherever assaults on religious freedom occur, America has a moral responsibility to speak up and to act.
“Congressman Smith has been a stalwart defender of the persecuted and repressed around the world and I am pleased to partner with him in advancing this critical legislation in the Senate,” Rubio added.
The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, introduced with Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and John Cornyn (R-TX), would:
• Give the Administration and the State Department new political tools, strengthen the bureaucratic standing of the International Religious Freedom Office and the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom by making clear that the Ambassador reports directly to the Secretary of State.
• Clarify the Ambassador-at-Large’s role in distributing project grants to protect religious freedom globally.
• Create a “Special Watch List” and automatic downgrade to a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for states on the list for three straight years.
• Clarify that CPC designations will occur annually.
• Require designation of non-state actors as “Entities of Particular Concern.”
• Direct the President to focus sanctions on individuals who carry out or order religious restrictions.
• Set a floor at 25 full-time employees in the International Religious Freedom Office.
• Require curriculum for training all Foreign Service Officers in the “strategic value of international religious freedom.”
• Prioritize IRF programming for groups that seek to strengthen investigations, reporting, and monitoring of religious freedom violations, including genocide.
The legislation is the companion legislation to the amended text of H.R. 1150, introduced by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), that emerged from a House Foreign Affairs Committee mark-up last week—the only modification is the addition of language prioritizing programming aimed at investigations and monitoring of religious freedom violations to include genocide perpetrated against religious minorities.
Rubio has been a leading advocate of international religious freedom issues in the Senate, including playing a central role in the reauthorization of the bipartisan, independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom last year and several individual international religious freedom cases. Just last month, he accepted the International Religious Freedom Roundtable’s Thomas Jefferson International Religious Freedom Champion Award. His #expressionNOToppression Twitter campaign often highlights cases of religious persecution around the world in an effort to raise awareness and issue calls for action.