President Donald Trump issued an executive order Tuesday that prioritizes international religious freedom concerns for United States foreign policy. Specifically, it requires the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to create long-term strategic plans for advancing religious freedom internationally, provides $50 million per year for religious freedom programs, and requires U.S. foreign service members to receive extensive training on religious freedom.
The order also provides for the greater use of economic tools—including reductions of foreign assistance, visa restrictions, and sanctions—to advance religious freedom in countries that have been deemed serious religious liberty violators.
“No one should be persecuted because of their religion or beliefs,” said ADF International Director of Global Religious Freedom Kelsey Zorzi. “For too long, many countries have violated the fundamental rights of people of faith without any consequences. This executive order ensures that religious freedom will be thoroughly incorporated into U.S. foreign policy. It is a much-needed boost to efforts to protect everyone’s inalienable right to religious freedom.”
“Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative,” the executive order states. “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.”
The order directs federal agencies to focus their religious freedom efforts on countries that the State Department has deemed “countries of particular concern,” meaning that they have allowed or engaged in ongoing, systematic, and egregious violations of religious freedom. The order also targets countries on the State Department’s Special Watch List, countries where entities of particular concern exist, and any other countries that have engaged in or tolerated violations of religious freedom as noted in the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.
The order also directs U.S. missions to prioritize helping persecuted religious groups internationally. This includes supporting persecuted religious groups in diplomatic engagements with foreign countries, protecting houses of worship and religious heritage sites, and promoting accountability for perpetrators of attacks on individuals and communities because of their religion or beliefs.
The order is the latest in a string of actions by the Trump administration in support of international religious freedom. In July of last year, the State Department hosted more than 100 foreign delegations at the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. During the United Nations General Assembly in September, the president hosted and delivered remarks at an event declaring a “global call to protect religious freedom.” The U.S. also recently helped create an International Religious Freedom Alliance of 29 countries dedicated to advancing religious freedom.
“Around the world, millions of people are facing persecution because of their faith,” explained ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman. “Christians, in particular, face widespread and severe persecution. We applaud those who uphold fundamental freedoms and promote the inherent dignity of all people. The executive order signed today is a promising step in the right direction. No one should turn a blind eye to the plight religious minorities face every single day.”