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WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced a resolution to express support for international religious freedom as a fundamental right and a cornerstone of US foreign policy amid concern over increased attacks on religious freedom worldwide. The effort is also cosponsored by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has identified thousands of incidents where religious freedom was violated around the world in 2023, including violence against Rohingya Muslims in Burma, attacks on Uyghurs in China, and persecution of clergy by Russians in Ukraine. In 2023, USCIRF identified more than 2,200 individuals targeted by 27 different countries and entities for their religious beliefs, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs. USCIRF also identified the continued destruction of religious sites as an additional threat to religious freedom.  

The resolution urges the US State Department to expand its support for religious freedom around the world, including by leveraging all diplomatic and sanctions tools available to hold violators of religious freedom accountable, and encourages the State Department to promote religious freedom as a central tenet of US foreign policy implementation.

 “The fundamental right of every person to have a faith, live your faith, change your faith, or have no faith at all must be recognized throughout the world. Countries like China, Russia, and Iran continue to target and persecute citizens for living this most basic freedom. The United States must continue its international leadership to defend religious freedom, which is why we are reaffirming our commitment to fight for religious freedom around the world,” said Lankford.

“The right to religious freedom is an American ideal and the cornerstone of our nation’s identity,” said Coons. “Protecting religious minorities must remain central to American foreign policy, and we must call out and condemn attacks on religious people and nonbelievers alike. I’m proud to join with a bipartisan group of colleagues in this effort to make clear that this must remain a priority for our country’s international relations moving forward.”

“The Virginia General Assembly passed a statute in 1786 that became the basis of religious freedom in America. Because of our example, many people who live in countries around the world where religious freedom is nonexistent see the US as a beacon of hope – a place where people of all faiths can live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools, and work side by side,” said Kaine. “Amid the sharp rise in attacks on faith-based communities, I’m joining my colleagues to send a clear message that we must work together to protect religious freedom at home and abroad.”

“The United States must maintain our steadfast commitment to standing up for religious liberty,” said Tillis. “This resolution expresses our unwavering support for victims of religious persecution and reaffirms our support for safeguarding religious freedom worldwide.”

“USCIRF commends the Senators’ bipartisan efforts to advance international religious freedom. We welcome this vital resolution and will continue to provide foreign policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion or belief abroad. We also want to thank Congress for its continued support of USCIRF,” said USCIRF Chair Abraham Cooper and Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie. “Twenty-five years after the enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), religious freedom issues are more integrated than ever into US foreign relations, yet state and nonstate actors around the globe continue to perpetrate or tolerate severe religious persecution. In too many countries, individuals and communities are targeted for their religious beliefs, activity, or identity, or for their religious freedom advocacy. Those individuals and communities are why IRFA was enacted. They also are why global efforts to promote freedom of religion or belief for all remain essential today and in the future.”

“Serious violations of religious freedom have been on the rise worldwide for many years, which is why we at Alliance Defending Freedom are proud to support this vital resolution. No one should be punished or prosecuted for their faith, but in too many countries worldwide, sharing one’s faith can lead to violence and imprisonment. The United States has always been a beacon for our first freedom, and the promotion of international religious freedom is one of the key spots of bipartisan agreement. We need the US to continue to stand on a bipartisan basis for those defending the right to religious freedom around the world, and to hold accountable those countries and actors who commit the worst violations of religious freedom abroad,” said Kristen Waggoner, President and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom.

The effort is also supported by Freedom House, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The text of this resolution is available here
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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