■ The escalating persecution of Christians and other religious groups around the world will be addressed under a new bill sent to US president Barack Obama to be signed into law on Tuesday.
The Frank R Wolf International Religious Freedom Act will give the US government and State Department new tools, resources and training to help counter extremism and violations of religious freedom.
“From China and Vietnam to Syria and Nigeria, we are witnessing a tragic, global crisis in religious persecution, violence and terrorism, with dire consequences for religious believers and for US national security,” said Congressman Chris Smith, chair of the Global Human Rights Subcommittee and author of the bill.
“Ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria are on the verge of extinction and other religious minorities in the Middle East face a constant assault from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
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“The freedom to practise a religion without persecution is a precious right for everyone, of whatever race, sex, or location on earth. This human right is enshrined in our own founding documents, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and has been a bedrock principle of open and democratic societies for centuries.”
The bill requires international religious freedom training for all US foreign service officers, and creates a ‘Special Watch List’ of countries of particular concern regarding religious liberty.
It also creates a comprehensive list of people who are detained, imprisoned, tortured and subject to forced remission of faith around the world.
The bill is named after Frank Wolf, who in 1998 sponsored the International Religious Freedom Act.
Smith said Wolf was “a tireless champion for the rights of the poor and the persecuted globally”.
“18 years ago, he had the foresight to make advancing the right to religious freedom a high US foreign policy priority,” Smith added.
“It is largely because of his efforts that religious freedom is taken seriously as a foreign policy issue. I had the distinct honour and pleasure of working with him for over thirty years. This bill is a fitting tribute to his work and service to our great nation.”