Upholding the International Religious Freedom Act
Friday marked the 19th anniversary of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. It was originally passed in response to growing religious persecution globally, a problem that remains urgent today as multiple crises around the world threaten the human right to freedom of religion and belief.
The IRF Act requires Congress and the president to take religious persecution into account when crafting U.S. foreign policy. Along with amendments passed in 2016, it also encourages the president to take actions up to and including sanctions in response to designated “countries of particular concern.” It also created the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF), and requires the office to publish and submit to the Congress an annual report on international religious freedom.
As we mark the anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should schedule a vote for the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 2017, a bipartisan effort that seeks to address the serious and dangerous resurgence of antisemitism in Europe. The bill, if passed, will strengthen the International Religious Freedom Report by requiring additional reporting on the security challenges and needs of European Jewish communities; bilateral efforts between the U.S. government and European law enforcement agencies and civil society; educational programming promoting tolerance; and efforts by European governments to adopt and apply a working definition of antisemitism. The legislation will also signal to our European allies that the United States remains committed to addressing this urgent global problem. The bill unanimously passed the House in May. It’s time for the Senate to follow suit.