Obama signs international religious freedom bill written by NJ lawmaker
By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON – A bill authored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, that will give the presidential administration and the U.S. State Department new tools, resources and training to help counter extremism and combat a worldwide escalation of persecution of religious minorities has been signed by President Barack Obama.
The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act was approved Dec. 13 by the U.S. House of Representatives and signed into law Dec. 16.
“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, chairman 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,” he added. “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 H.R. 1150 and co-sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, had more than 100 bipartisan co-sponsors. The Knights of Columbus is one of several religious organizations that has backed the measure, along with representatives of ethnic minority groups and nongovernmental organizations.
Named for former Congressman Frank Wolf – a retired legislator who represented Virginia for 34 years known for being "a tireless champion for the rights of the poor and the persecuted globally" – the bill will expand the International Religious Freedom Act he sponsored in 1998. It 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 freedom to practice a religion without persecution is a precious right for everyone, of whatever race, sex, or location on earth,” Smith said. “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."
Since Congress first passed the act in 1998, Smith has held more than 17 hearings on religious freedom, including “The Global Crisis of Religious Freedom” hearing held last year.
“Eighteen years ago, [Wolf] had the foresight to make advancing the right to religious freedom a high U.S. foreign policy priority,” Smith said. “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 30 years. This bill is a fitting tribute to his work and service to our great nation.”
The Monitor staff contributed to this report.