On Tuesday President Donald Trump signed an executive order instructing the U.S. State Department to prioritize international religious freedom in its foreign policy implementation, and to budget $50 million a year for the advancement of religious freedom.
Advancing international religious freedom
The new order on “advancing international religious freedom” contains a number of instructions for the State Department and federal agency heads when it comes to promoting religious freedom abroad.
“Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative,” the executive order reads. “Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the United States, and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom.”
Among other things, the order gives Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 180 days to consult with the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development to “develop a plan to prioritize international religious freedom in the planning and implementation of U.S. foreign policy and in the foreign assistance programs of the Department of State and USAID.”
Countries of particular concern
The order also states that Pompeo will direct chiefs of missions in countries that are included on the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” for international religious freedom violations and the religious freedom “special watch list,” to develop “comprehensive action plans to inform and support the efforts” of the U.S. government “to encourage the host governments to make progress in eliminating violations of religious freedom.”
The order calls for the State Department to work with the Department of the Treasury to develop “recommendations to prioritize the appropriate use of economic tools” to advance religious freedom in countries of particular concern or on the special watch list.
Such economic tools can include “increasing religious freedom programming, realigning foreign assistance to better reflect country circumstances, or restricting the issuance of visas.”
International religious freedom, a whole-of-government approach
“Because there is so much religious persecution in the world, it also hurts all other human rights,” said Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador for religious freedom.
In addition, all staff assigned to overseas posts will now receive international training in religious freedom.
“It makes international religious freedom a whole-of-government focus in our basic foreign policy apparatus,” Brownback said.
The executive order comes at a time when Christian persecution and anti-Semitism are on the rise around the world.
North Korea, Afghanistan and Somalia top the list as the world’s most dangerous countries for Christians, according to the Open Doors USA 2020 Global Watch List.
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) June 2, 2020