Smith Religious Freedom Bill Heads to President's Desk
Washington, Dec 13, 2016
The U.S. House of Representatives passed and sent to the President’s desk the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (H.R. 1150) today.
The bipartisan bill, authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and co-sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), will give the Administration and the State Department new tools, resources and training to help counter extremism and the growing persecution of religious minorities globally.
“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 U.S. 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.
“The freedom to practice a religion without persecution is a precious right for everyone, of whatever race, sex, or location on earth,” said Smith. “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 Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act will expand the International Religious Freedom Act sponsored by former Rep. Frank Wolf in 1998 to better address escalating religious persecution globally and help the Administration and the State Department to more effectively respond to violent extremism worldwide.
The bill will improve U.S. religious freedom diplomacy efforts globally; better train and equip diplomats to counter extremism; address anti-Semitism and religious persecution and mitigate sectarian conflict. The bill:
• Creates a “Designated Persons List” for individuals who commit egregious violations of religious freedom
• Creates a comprehensive religious prisoners list—persons who are detained, imprisoned, tortured and subject to forced renunciation of faith.
• Integrates religious freedom into every aspect of U.S. foreign policy
• Strengthens the Special Advisor for religious freedom at the National Security Council
• Requires international religious freedom training for all Foreign Service Officers
• Requires that the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom report directly to the Secretary of State
• Elevates the position of the ambassador within the federal government
• Creates an “Entity of Particular Concern” designation for non-state actors like terrorist groups
• Requires more frequent presidential actions to counter severe religious freedom violations globally
• Creates a “Special Watch List”—two tier system at State (CPC countries/Special Watch List)
• Sets congressional expectations for staffing of the IRF office and expansion of Religious Freedom Program grants
The bill is supported publicly by an ecumenical and bipartisan group of religious organizations and representatives of ethnic minority groups and NGOs.
Smith has long been a leader in the fight against anti-Semitism. He is the author of the 2004 legislative amendment that created the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, and the special envoy to lead it. In the early 2000s led the effort to place fighting anti-Semitism on the agenda of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which led to the adoption of new norms for the 57 countries that belong to the OSCE. He has also chaired 10 hearings on anti-Semitism, including Congress’s first-ever hearings on anti-Semitism. He is co-chairman of the Bi-Partisan Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (an organization of Members of Congress) and a member of the steering committee of the Interparliamentary Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism.
“The bill is named after former Congressman Frank Wolf, a tireless champion for the rights of the poor and the persecuted globally,” said Smith. “18 years ago, he had the foresight to make advancing the right to religious freedom a high U.S. foreign policy priority. It is largely because of his efforts that religious freedom is taken seriously as a foreign policy issue. I had the distinct honor 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.”
Congress first passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998. Since then Smith has held dozens of hearings on religious freedom, including the landmark hearing held last year entitled “The Global Crisis of Religious Freedom.”