Smith Int’l Religious Freedom Bill Passes House Combatting Persecution of Christians and Anti-Semitism
Legislation giving the Administration and the US State Department new resources to help combat the worldwide escalation of persecution of Christians and Anti-Semitism was debated and unanimously approved by the House of Representatives yesterday evening.
“The world is experiencing an unprecedented crisis of international religious freedom, a crisis that continues to create millions of victims; a crisis that undermines liberty, prosperity and peace; a crisis that poses a direct challenge to the US interests in the Middle East, Russia, China and sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) the author of HR 1150, the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which upgrades diplomatic tools and training needed to mitigate sectarian conflict.
“A robust religious freedom diplomacy is necessary to advance US interests in stability, security, and economic development. Where there is more religious freedom, there is more economic freedom, more women’s empowerment, more political stability, more freedom of speech, and less terrorism,” said Smith, who chairs the congressional committee that oversees global human rights. His bill, cosponsored by lead Democrat Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), has more than 100 bipartisan cosponsors and is supported by a large ecumenical group of religious organizations and representatives of ethnic minority groups and nongovernment organizations.
“The House of Representatives voted to upgrade the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, to better address the religious freedom and violent extremism problems being experienced in the 21st century,” said Eshoo. “From the founding of our nation, religious freedom has been a pillar of our democracy and it remains one of the most cherished values of our country. This bill will improve U.S. efforts to promote religious freedom globally; better train and equip diplomats to counter extremism; address persecution; mitigate conflict and help the Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom to coordinate religious freedom efforts.”
Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of Knights of Columbus who testified at Smith’s Dec. 9 hearing entitled “Assisting Victims of ISIS Violence,” praised House passage.
"The U.S. House has taken an important step to empower government officials to address the persecution of religious minorities throughout the world,” Anderson said. “The Knights of Columbus applauds the House for its action, and urges the Senate to quickly follow suit and the President to sign this important legislation into law."
Specifically, Smith’s bill:
Smith named the bill in honor of the work of former Congressman Frank Wolf, an internationally-recognized advocate for religious freedom who authored the first US international religious freedom bill over 20 years ago.
“Nearly 20 years ago, led by US Congressman Frank R. Wolf, the Congress had the foresight to make advancing the right to religious freedom a high U.S. foreign policy priority. Today religious freedom is still under attack and we must upgrade our programs and methods to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” said Smith, who has held more than a dozen hearings on religious freedom including the October 15, 2015 hearing entitled "The Global Crisis of Religious Freedom."
Eschoo called Wolf a “tireless champion for the rights of the poor and the persecuted” around the world. “I had the pleasure of working with him for many years and through his efforts, religious freedom is now being taken seriously as a foreign policy issue.”