By / Apr 11

(RNS) — Southern Baptist leaders have written to U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a member and former official of their denomination, urging him to support Ukraine in Russia’s war against its Eastern European neighbor.

Hannah Daniel, the ERLC’s director of public policy, told RNS in a statement that Southern Baptists have long opposed authoritarian regimes’ prohibitions of religious freedom.

“The resolve of our lawmakers to stand with Ukraine has wavered, despite the brutal persecution of Christians, particularly Baptists, the kidnapping of children, and the destruction of churches because of Russia’s unjust and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” she said. “Congress must look past any hesitation or obstinance and overcome division to swiftly pass such a package.”

Read the full Religion News Service article here.

By / Apr 9

Nashville, Tenn., April 9, 2024 —The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has hired Nathan A. Finn, Ph.D., to serve as a senior fellow with an emphasis on matters related to religious liberty.

Finn is a professor of faith and culture at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina, where he also serves as executive director of the Institute for Transformation Leadership. In addition to his roles at North Greenville, Finn is the bi-vocational teaching pastor at Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina. 

Finn is a church historian and theologian whose research interests include Baptist history and identity, the intersection of faith and culture, the doctrine of the Christian life, and Christian higher education. Finn is active in Southern Baptist denominational leadership and serves as the current recording secretary of the SBC. He has also served as vice-chair of the Committee on Resolution (2021), is a member of the Cooperation Group (2023-2024), and is an ex-officio member of the SBC Executive Committee (2022-present).

“Religious liberty has been a core Baptist distinctive from our movement’s inception, and it remains at the heart of the ERLC’s mission,” said Finn. “I also believe it is one of the most important justice issues of our age. I’m honored to serve Southern Baptists by helping our churches reflect on the enduring importance of religious liberty and its implications, to respond to contemporary challenges to our ‘First Freedom,’ and to better understand how the Baptist ideal of a free church in a free state helps promote Great Commission faithfulness and cultivate authentic human flourishing.”

Finn is author or editor of more than a dozen books, most notably, “The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement” (B&H Academic, 2015), “History: A Student’s Guide” (Crossway, 2016), “Historical Theology for the Church” (B&H Academic, 2021), and “A Handbook of Theology” (B&H Academic, 2023). He frequently writes columns for WORLD Opinions and Baptist Press.

“Dr. Finn is one of the leading Baptist voices on questions of religious liberty in the public square today,” said Jason Thacker, director of the ERLC Research Institute and senior fellow. “He brings a wealth of experience and historical insight to these questions as he models how central religious liberty is to our gospel work and to Baptist identity. Religious liberty is not an optional add-on to our common life together, but absolutely central to what it means to be human and how we ought to live with one another in community as we seek to proclaim a proper understanding of the relationship of the church and state in a pluralizing society.”

Finn joins RaShan Frost, a senior fellow focusing on human dignity issues, and Thacker, who focuses on pro-life and other bioethical issues on the research team. 

Prior to his roles at North Greenville University, Finn previously served as a church historian at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina; dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee; and as provost and dean of the university faculty at North Greenville University.

Finn earned his doctor of philosophy in theological studies with a concentration in church history from SEBTS. Finn and his wife have four children.

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 13.6 million members and a network of over 47,000 cooperating churches and congregations. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected]

By / Mar 6

ATLANTA (BP) – Iowa and Utah are the latest states to pass legislation protecting religious freedom from governmental intrusion, with related legislation active in Georgia and four other states.

Iowa and Utah passed state versions of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) Feb. 29 and Feb. 22, respectively, according to the states’ legislative tracking sites, setting high legal scrutiny for any state or local governmental measure that restricts religious freedom, and giving alleged victims the right to sue.

Georgia’s Senate passed a similar bill Feb. 29, barely meeting the calendar deadline for the Senate to send legislation to the House. In Nebraska, the Freedom First Act introduced in 2023 was carried over to the 2024 session. Bills are active in Illinois, Missouri and Rhode Island to strengthen or amend RFRA laws already in place in those states, according to the legislative tracking site Bill Track 50.

Hannah Daniel, director of public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), applauded the legislation that mirrors the 1993 RFRA, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 only applies to federal legislation.

At a time where many of our deepest held beliefs are viewed as intolerant or unpopular, these bills provide vital protections to people of faith living out those convictions in the public square.

Hannah Daniel

“The ERLC highlighted several of these efforts in our first ever State Policy Agenda, and we encourage more states to follow this model”, Daniel said.

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Feb 15

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 15, 2024—Hannah Daniel, director of public policy for The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation Feb. 15 to “support the human rights of Uyghurs and members of other minority groups residing primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and safeguard their distinct identity, and for other purposes,” as stated in the Uyghur Policy Act. 

The ERLC recently announced its support for increased protections for the Uyghur People in China as a policy priority in its 2024 public policy agenda.

“Since the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Act in 2021, there has been little action in Congress to push back on the heinous actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghurs,” said Daniel. “We are pleased to see the House of Representatives take this strong, bipartisan step in passing the Uyghur Policy Act, which will mandate a higher prioritization of ending this genocide in the United States’ dealings with China. Southern Baptists have spoken clearly on this issue, and we now urge the Senate to swiftly pass this vital legislation.” 

In 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention became the first denomination to denounce China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as genocide and adopted a resolution at its annual meeting that condemned the Chinese Communist Party’s oppression primarily of Uyghur Muslims in a western region of the world’s most populous country. It also called for the U.S. government to take “concrete actions” to end the genocide.

The ERLC will continue to prioritize efforts to advocate against this ongoing genocide and urges the U.S. Senate to join the House in passing this legislation that would further protect this persecuted people group. 

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 13.6 million members and a network of over 47,000 cooperating churches and congregations. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected] 

By / Feb 1

WASHINGTON (BP) — Religious freedom impacts economic prosperity and political rights, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson said Jan. 31 in his keynote address at the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington.

“Economic prosperity grows when people are allowed to follow their faith, and freedom flourishes where freedom is allowed,” Johnson said. “When religious freedom is taken away from the people, political freedom soon follows.”

Johnson spoke in the final plenary of the two-day summit that, in its fourth year, convened a diverse segment of religious freedom advocates and leaders from the U.S. and abroad. Through a series of plenaries, panel discussions, breakout sessions and personal testimonies, advocates encouraged and equipped attendees to advocate for a global right to individual religious freedom for all, regardless of religion and gender.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) was among the event’s convening partners.

As Southern Baptists, we have a rich history of advocating for a government that safeguards the ability for us to live according to our deeply held beliefs found in Scripture.

By taking part in the fourth annual summit, we also deepen vital partnerships to protect the religious liberty of all people around the world. As we recognize infringements upon religious liberty ultimately inhibit the work of our missionaries and churches in fulfilling the Great Commission.

ERLC Policy Associate Allison Cantrell

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Jan 23

The recently proposed Safeguarding Charity Act is a response to numerous religious liberty challenges that take place within our courts. Encouragingly, this fundamental American freedom has stood its ground. Today, the religious freedom protections we enjoy as Americans remain robust.

However, the challenges to our first freedom haven’t abated entirely. In the last couple of years, rulings in two court cases have taken aim at religious liberty by equating “tax-exempt status” with “federal financial assistance.” In response, Sen. Marco Rubio and Congressman Greg Steube are proposing a bill called the Safeguarding Charity Act. 

What is the Safeguarding Charity Act?

The Safeguarding Charity Act is an amendment—a “congressional remedy“—to Title 1 of the United States Code being proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio and Congressman Greg Steube of Florida. Its purpose is “to reverse [two recent court decisions]” that “potentially subject tens of thousand of unsuspecting non-profits to multiple burdensome and costly federal laws for the first time, restore the decades-long understanding of the law, and forestall a virtually unprecedented expansion of federal law.”

The act is being proposed in response to Buettner-Hartsoe v. Baltimore Lutheran High School and E.H. v. Valley Christian Academy, two recent court cases with significant religious liberty implications. 

What problem does it seek to address?

Over a period of 75 years—from 1894 to 1969—the basic principles and requirements of tax exemption in the U.S., including the kinds of organizations that could be granted exemption, were developed through a series of legislative actions. In the last couple of years, however, two court decisions have muddied the waters on what it means to be tax exempt and what it means to receive federal financial assistance.

In Buettner-Hartsoe v. Baltimore Lutheran High School and E.H. v. Valley Christian Academy, the courts have held that to enjoy tax-exempt status is to receive “federal financial assistance,” a novel conclusion that virtually no court in American history, nor federal agency, nor statute has held. And while it may seem like an insignificant distinction, if these courts rulings were to be upheld, or if Rubio’s proposed amendment does not pass, the rulings would immediately trigger the application of a number of statutes not intended for tax-exempt entities, imposing on them burdens they ought not to bear. 

Defining tax exemption as a form of federal financial assistance would trigger such laws as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and others, applying them to a number of organizations that have historically been exempt from federal income taxation such as private schools, houses of worship, volunteer fire departments, veterans organizations, and many more. If the court decisions are upheld and more widely embraced, untold numbers of tax-exempt organizations will become subject to government imposed statutes and regulations. If they are found to be in violation of the statutes and regulations, they could incur financial penalties or their tax-exempt status could be removed.

The Safeguarding Charity Act “would correct the courts’ erroneous decisions by declaring that tax-exempt status is not ‘federal financial assistance.'”

Why should Southern Baptists support the Safeguarding Charity Act?

The court decisions mentioned above have significant religious liberty implications. If being tax-exempt is equated with receiving federal financial assistance, thereby triggering statutes and regulations on historically tax-exempt organizations, thousands of nonprofits, including many faith-based organizations, will be forced to comply with regulations that may interfere with their religious liberty and consciences.

Many faith-based organizations that would otherwise qualify for federal grants and financial assistance explicitly do not take such funds to avoid these stringent requirements that could violate their beliefs. Religious organizations provide indispensable benefits to the communities that they serve and threatening to take away the tax-exempt status of these institutions or subject them to regulations that infringe on their deeply held convictions, will only harm the individuals being served by these organizations.

As Christians, we believe that God has given the governing authorities power and responsibility (Rom. 13:1–2). We ought not to resist the state when it acts within the bounds of the authority it’s received from God. But the state’s power is not ultimate—there are certain boundaries it shall not cross. When it attempts to encroach on its citizens’ religious convictions or impose its values by edict or fiat—precisely the effect the aforementioned statutes and regulations will have on formerly tax-exempt organizations—the state has certainly overstepped the bounds of its authority.

Christians should support the Safeguarding Charity Act because doing so represents a tangible step toward safeguarding the religious liberties that are so fundamental to American life. 

What comes next?

Now that Sen. Rubio and Congressman Steube have introduced the bill, they will begin the hard work of convincing their colleagues from both parties to support this solution. It is unlikely that a measure like this will quickly be passed into law, but the ERLC will work with these members and other partners to continue educating our lawmakers about this issue and advocating for their support of this proposal.

By / Jan 19

Following Jesus has always been a call to risk everything. All throughout the Gospels, Jesus pulls no punches about what it looks like to be his disciple: “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24); “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39); “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). While these reminders from Jesus are always true, in some parts of the world they are experienced more imminently than others.

Every January, Open Doors releases its annual World Watch List—a project that ranks the top 50 countries worldwide where it’s most dangerous to identify as a follower of Jesus. In recent days, the organization published the 2024 World Watch List, revealing updated information and trends from the last 12 months. You can find and read the full report here.

Trends and statistics

According to the report’s findings, on average “thirteen Christians a day were killed for their faith in 2023.” This number was part of a larger trend that saw:

  • nearly 5,000 Christians murdered last year, 
  • more than 4,000 detained, 
  • almost 300,000 displaced, 
  • and an estimated 365 million persecuted for their Christian faith. 

That means one in seven Christians around the world currently experience high, and sometimes dangerously violent levels of persecution on a daily basis.

Moreover, according to the report, “The number of attacks on churches and Christian-run schools, hospitals, and cemeteries exploded in 2023.” Almost 15,000 churches and Christian properties were attacked in 2023, which is a “seven-fold [increase] compared to the previous year.” In China alone, some 10,000 churches were shuttered, while in Algeria the number of Protestant churches went from 47 to four. Countries like India, Nigeria, Nicaragua, and Ethiopia closed and/or attacked churches at an alarming rate as well.

Overall, more Christians faced violent attacks in 2023 than ever recorded. The number of displaced Christians around the world more than doubled. One in five Christians in Africa were persecuted for their faith, while that number was two in five for Christians in Asia. Worldwide, Christians faced more hostility in 2023 than they have in recent years. 

Country rankings for Christian persecution

Sitting atop this year’s World Watch List are the same 10 countries as the 2023 list, though the order has shuffled slightly. The countries in order are:

  1. North Korea
  2. Somalia
  3. Libya
  4. Eritrea
  5. Yemen
  6. Nigeria
  7. Pakistan
  8. Sudan
  9. Iran
  10. Afghanistan 

Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa are the regions with the greatest concentration of persecution around the globe. 

Asia: In North Korea, “being discovered to be a Christian … is effectively a death sentence.” Being found out means you’re either deported and sentenced to a life of hard labor or killed along with your family. Religious freedom and the freedom to worship are nonexistent, so meeting for worship or even possessing a Bible or other Christian literature is done at great risk and in utmost secrecy. North Korea is just one example among many Asian countries where persecution is rampant including India (11), China (19), Myanmar (17), Vietnam (35), Malaysia (49), and Indonesia (42). 

Middle East: The Middle East has always been a hotly contested piece of real estate, which remains true today. Saudi Arabia (13), Syria (12), Yemen (5), Iraq (16), and Iran (9), among others, are countries where following Jesus is an extreme risk. In Yemen, for example, a majority-Muslim country where denouncing Islam can mean death or banishment, there are very few Christians. But for those who are Christians, they must keep their faith secret or face “divorce, loss of custody of children, arrest, interrogation, or death.” 

North Africa: On the African continent, Morocco (24), Algeria (15), Tunisia (33), Libya (3), Egypt (38), Sudan (8), and others all made the list. In Nigeria (6)—a country of almost 103 million Christians—it is shockingly dangerous to be a Christian. In fact, “More people are killed for their faith in Nigeria each year, than everywhere else in the world combined.” Nine out of ten religiously-motivated murders worldwide occur in Nigeria. Nineteen of the 50 countries included on the 2024 World Watch List are located in Africa.

While the 10 most dangerous countries have largely stayed the same, it is worth noting that other countries’ rankings have risen significantly in the last year or more (meaning they are becoming more dangerous). For instance, as recently as 2022, Nicaragua was not included on the World Watch List. However, Nicaragua was on last year’s list at number 50 and this year’s at number 30 due to its rapidly deteriorating political situation. Likewise, over the last few years Cuba has risen from being unlisted in 2021 to number 37 in 2022 to 27 in 2023 to number 22 on this year’s list. Like Nicaragua, Cuba’s persecution is mostly delivered by the Cuban government. 

Positive trends

Thankfully, there’s some good news to share as well. First, fewer Christians were killed for their faith in 2023 (4,998) than in 2022 (5,621), which was also lower than the previous year (5,898). Five thousand people is far, far too many, but the downward trend is welcome news in a report filled with dire findings.

As the report points out, political developments in countries like Mali (14) and India (11) show signs of progress and hope. In 2023, Mali adopted a new constitution which recognizes non-Muslim minorities and “paved the way for elections in a nation currently ruled by a military government.” Similarly, India rolled back anti-conversion laws that have long been a tool of persecution, giving hope to Christians who have experienced harassment and intimidation due to the now defunct laws. 

In Laos, a country that has exploded in religious persecution and jumped 10 spots on the World Watch List, the Church there is flourishing and growing. According to one country expert, “I have never seen a clearer connection between growing opposition and a growing church.” 

How can we stand with our brothers and sisters around the world facing Christian persecution?

After reading a report like this, we may experience a number of emotions: helplessness, fear, compassion, horror, and others. And since we’re mostly far removed from the people represented on this list, it’s easy to put the report down and simply move on. As Christians, though, regardless of how many miles lie between us, these are our brothers and sisters. So what should we do?

At the very least, we should labor in prayer for our brothers and sisters in the faith. After all, we believe that God works powerfully and providentially through our prayers. Many of us can give financially to people and organizations that serve the persecuted church in difficult locations. Some of us may even be compelled to go to these places ourselves. But all of us can pray—and there’s no better and more powerful way to strengthen these Christians and help them persevere than to approach God on their behalf in prayer. 

So, use this year’s World Watch List as a prayer prompt. Let it motivate you to pray and inform the way you pray for those around the world who “suffer from high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith”—the same faith we get to exercise without threat or fear. As we pray, the ERLC will continue to advocate for the recognition of religious liberty in all countries around the world 

By / Jan 17

Just a day after remembering the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., Americans are being called to reflect Tuesday (Jan. 16) on the importance of religious liberty.

“The constitutional right to practice our faiths peacefully and openly is a core tenet of our democracy and helps us fulfill one of our highest aspirations as a Nation: to be a citadel of liberty and a beacon of freedom,” said President Joe Biden in a Jan. 12 release proclaiming Jan. 16 as Religious Freedom Day.

Presidents have been setting aside the day since it was designated by Congress in 1993.

The day is set aside to commemorate “the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of the landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786,” according to George Washington University. The statute was written by Thomas Jefferson.

“We believe freedom of religion includes the ability to worship without the interference of the state, the ability to freely express one’s religious beliefs without fear of retribution from the state, and the freedom to live according to one’s deepest held convictions,” said Miles Mullin, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) chief of staff, in written comments.

Southern Baptist religious liberty leaders say religious freedom has deep roots in their theological convictions.

“For centuries, Baptists have advocated for religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all people. For Southern Baptists, this has been a foundational commitment, so important that we enshrined it in our confession of faith ,” Mullin said.

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Nov 22

In 1993, Congress enacted the strongest legislative protections for religious liberty into law. The passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) reinforced what Southern Baptists have held to be a fundamental truth enshrined in the Constitution: freedom of religion requires the free expression of religious belief.

Thirty years later, RFRA is still as important and is necessary for the future of religious freedom advocacy in the United States.

What led to the passage of the RFRA?

There are two types of laws that affect religious freedom in the U.S.:

  1. Laws that intentionally target religious communities, which are expressly prohibited in the Constitution.
  2. “Religiously neutral” laws that seek to address another issue and influence religious communities incidentally.

Prior to the passage of RFRA, the courts exhibited sole discretion over the second type of law. Since the courts tended to rule in favor of the religious defendants, no legislation was needed to protect religious liberty; there was previous precedent already set to rule in favor of religious liberty.

In 1990, this changed with the case Employment Division v. Smith, when the court ruled against two members of the Native American Church. For these individuals, the practice of their faith required the ingestion of small doses of a hallucinogenic plant. In the decision, the court concluded that the federal government no longer had to meet the highest levels of scrutiny to supersede religious belief. This precedent meant that the court now tended to rule in favor of the federal government to override the religious expression of individuals in any instance where religious liberty conflicted with the law.

In response, outrage erupted in Congress across party lines, and legislators came together to pass RFRA to provide “very broad protection for religious liberty.” 

What impact does the RFRA have on religious liberty today?

RFRA ensures that in cases where the federal government is exerting a requirement upon religious and faith-based employees and employers, the government must once again meet the highest standards of scrutiny instead of forcing employees and faith-based employers to needlessly sacrifice their deeply-held religious convictions. It remains the preeminent federal statute referred to by the courts when ruling on religious liberty cases to this day since it provides for a private course of action by which a citizen may sue the federal government.

RFRA has been an essential part of many of the most significant religious liberty victories at the Supreme Court since its passage, including cases like Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor.

Additionally, RFRA represents some of the most bipartisan legislation to be signed into law. President Clinton, upon signage, stated: “ … Religion helps to give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive … It is high time we had an open and honest reaffirmation of the role of American citizens of faith.”

The House of Representatives passed RFRA unanimously, and the Senate passed it with only three dissenting votes. Dozens of faith-based organizations, including the Christian Life Commission, led by Dr. Richard Land at the time, supported this legislation. 

What does the future hold for religious freedom protections?

Part of the advocacy work at the ERLC includes calling for similar safeguards, such as conscience protections, to be reflected in federal funding through the appropriations process. For example, the Hyde Amendment specifically prohibits the federal government from requiring that healthcare providers perform abortions in the federal funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bills. Hyde must be renewed on an annual basis.

As Southern Baptists who believe in the inherent worth of each person, the ERLC is advocating for these protections to be expanded to include all federal agencies and for this type of religious freedom protection to be permanently amended to federal statutes through legislation such as the Conscience Protection Act.

Additionally, while RFRA is still highly effective, there is a concerning practice in recently filed legislation to include a provision causing a RFRA exception. For example, federal pro-abortion legislation that includes this provision would make it so that religious employers do not have the option to refuse to cover the cost of abortion-related funding in health insurance. While this is still an emerging trend, the ERLC and other groups are diligently working to ensure legislators understand what a religious exemption means for thousands of faith-based organizations and individuals—and what a concerning precedent it could set for future legislation. As Baptist and religious liberty advocate John Leland stated, “If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise let men be free.”

A right view of government is that it is “ordained by God,” to which Christians should respond with “loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God” (Baptist Faith and Message 2000; Rom. 13). Provisions like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ensure that believers are able to faithfully live out our convictions in alignment with both God’s clear direction and the requirements of the law. We invite our fellow Southern Baptist to join us in thanking the Lord for these vital legal protections, even as we advocate to ensure they remain in place for future generations.

By / Nov 17

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), a landmark law that has had a significant impact on promoting and protecting religious freedom around the world. Enacted on Oct. 27, 1998, the IRFA has become a crucial tool in the United States’ efforts to advance religious freedom globally. As we celebrate this milestone, here is what Christians in America should know in order to understand what the act is, why it matters, and how it has benefited mankind.

What is the International Religious Freedom Act?

The IRFA is a U.S. law that mandates the inclusion of religious freedom concerns in the country’s foreign policy. As President Clinton stated at the signing ceremony, “Religious freedom is a matter of national security as well as personal conviction.” Here are several requirements of IRFA: 

  • The act established a framework within which the U.S. could engage with other nations to advocate for the religious rights of individuals, regardless of their faith or belief system. 
  • It also requires the U.S. government to condemn violations of religious freedom abroad and assist foreign governments in protecting this fundamental human right. 
  • It led to the establishment of the Office of International Religious Freedom within the Department of State and the appointment of an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. 
  • It requires an annual report from the State Department on the status of religious freedom in each country around the world. 
  • It also established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal body that monitors religious freedom conditions worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state, and Congress. 

Through various mechanisms, including annual reports, targeted sanctions, and diplomatic engagement, the IRFA endeavors to hold accountable those nations where religious persecution is rampant, while also supporting countries working diligently to improve religious liberty.

Why does the International Religious Freedom Act matter?

Religious freedom is a bedrock American value, and the IRFA reflects the strong and enduring commitment of the U.S. to advancing this right for everyone in the world. The act recognizes that freedom of religion or belief is inextricably linked to other fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, conscience, and association. When religious freedom is at risk, these other freedoms are also jeopardized. 

Unfortunately, approximately 80% of the world’s population still faces serious restrictions or risks in living according to their most basic values and beliefs. The IRFA provides essential tools to address these challenges and promote religious freedom globally.

How has the International Religious Freedom Act benefited mankind?

Over the past 25 years, the IRFA has had a significant impact on promoting and protecting religious freedom worldwide. Here are some of the key benefits it has brought to mankind:

  • Empowering the persecuted: The IRFA has provided a range of new tools to give voice to the persecuted and empower advocates for religious freedom. Through its work, the USCIRF has shed light on religious freedom violations, raised awareness, and advocated for the rights of those facing persecution. Additionally, the act has emboldened a multitude of religious freedom advocates, bolstering various initiatives aimed at promoting religious tolerance and understanding among different faith groups.
  • Freeing the persecuted: One of the notable successes of the act can be seen in its role in facilitating the release of numerous religious prisoners. Its provisions have been instrumental in spotlighting the plight of individuals incarcerated due to their faith, and in exerting pressure on governments to uphold religious freedom.
  • Promoting tolerance and respect: Over the past 25 years, the IRFA has shaped America’s response to religious persecution worldwide. The law expresses America’s unique understanding that religious freedom is an essential human right, and violations of it destabilize societies. The annual report has brought international attention to abuses and influenced U.S. policies toward repressive regimes. The U.S. government, led by its ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, has been actively engaged in advocating for those who have been unfairly targeted and promoting religious tolerance and respect.
  • Highlighting the importance of religious freedom: The IRFA has played a crucial role in raising awareness about the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right. Its 25th-anniversary celebration has brought together various stakeholders, including religious leaders, policymakers, and human rights advocates, to reflect on the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead.
  • Providing a model for other countries: The IRFA has served as a model for other countries seeking to promote and protect religious freedom. Its success has inspired the adoption of similar legislation in various nations, further strengthening the global movement for religious freedom.

The challenge ahead

While the IRFA has achieved significant milestones over the past 25 years, challenges remain. In recent years, there has been a rise in restrictions on religious freedom worldwide, with some countries enacting laws that limit religious practice and expression. As we look to the future, it is crucial to continue advocating for religious freedom, supporting the work of the USCIRF, and engaging in dialogue with other nations to address these challenges and promote religious freedom for all. 

The IRFA affirms that religious freedom is not just an American value, but a universal human right. As we mark this anniversary, Americans can be proud of our leadership in promoting liberty of conscience for all people. The ideals enshrined in this act reflect our nation’s founding commitment to unalienable rights for people of all faiths. 

As long as the IRFA remains strong, the U.S. will continue speaking up for the voiceless and oppressed, which includes millions of persecuted Christians around the globe. While the work is far from complete, we celebrate the good that this law has done over the past 25 years to make the world a more free and just place.