The US House of Representatives has passed the bipartisan Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, and the bill has now been approved by President Barack Obama.
The measure gives the Obama administration and the American State Department new tools, resources and training to counter extremism and combat a worldwide escalation of persecution of religious minorities.
The bill will improve US religious freedom diplomacy efforts globally; better train and equip diplomats to counter extremism; address anti-Semitism and religious persecution and mitigate sectarian conflict.
The bipartisan bill was written by Chris Smith, Representative for New Jersey, and co-sponsored by Representative Anna Eshoo for California.
Named for former Congressman Frank Wolf, “a tireless champion for the rights of the poor and the persecuted globally,” the bill will expand the International Religious Freedom Act Wolf sponsored in 1998.
“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 Smith, chair of the Global Human Rights Subcommittee.
“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,” he said in a statement last week.
He added: “The freedom to practice 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, known as HR 1150, had more than 100 bipartisan co-sponsors.
The Knights of Columbus is one of several religious organisations that has backed the measure, along with representatives of ethnic minority groups and nongovernmental organisations.
“From the founding of our nation, religious freedom has been a pillar of our democracy and it remains one of the most cherished values of our country,” Eshoo said. “This bill will improve US efforts to promote religious freedom globally; better train and equip diplomats to counter extremism; address persecution; mitigate conflict and help the ambassador-at-large for religious freedom to coordinate religious freedom efforts.”