When members of the United States Congress return to Washington after the elections in November, religious freedom advocates are hopeful the Senate will pass H.R. 1150, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, so it can be sent to the president for his signature into law by the end of this year.
H.R. 1150, sponsored by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), passed out of the House unanimously by voice vote on May 16, 2016. Since then, participants of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable, of which the Church of Scientology International is a member, have been encouraging the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to schedule the bill for a “markup” (consideration and vote) so it can be passed out of committee and placed before the full Senate. A multi-faith letter to Senate leaders has attracted 67 signatures in support of swift passage of H.R. 1150 during the lame duck session of Congress (after the November elections but before the new Congress is sworn in, in January 2017).
Quoting from this multi-faith letter, the signers wrote:
We believe H.R. 1150/S. 2878 strengthens IRFA (the original International Religious Freedom Act, passed in 1998) at a critical time when assaults on religious freedom around the world are systemic and growing. In fact, the current state of international religious freedom is one of deepening crisis—according to the Pew Research Center’s latest annual study on global restrictions on religion, 74% of the world’s population live in countries with a high or very high overall level of restriction on religion. …
The passage and implementation of H.R. 1150 will result in a strengthened IRFA, as well the integration of this foundational human right into U.S. foreign policy and national security strategies. In so doing, the United States will send a clear and urgent message regarding the inherent dignity of every human being, while advancing global security in the fight against persecution, religious extremism and terrorism. This legislation is consistent with the best of our values, and has the added benefit of practically protecting our national interests as well.
The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act would give the Administration and the State Department new political tools, strengthen the standing of the International Religious Freedom Office and the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom by making clear that the Ambassador reports directly to the Secretary of State; clarify the Ambassador-at-Large’s role in distributing project grants to protect religious freedom globally; create a “Special Watch List” and automatic downgrade to a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for states on the list for three straight years; clarify that CPC designations will occur annually; require designation of non-state actors (such as terrorist organizations) as “Entities of Particular Concern”; direct the President to focus sanctions on individuals who carry out or order religious restrictions; require curriculum for training all Foreign Service Officers in the “strategic value of international religious freedom”; and prioritize IRF programming for groups that seek to strengthen investigations, reporting, and monitoring of religious freedom violations, including genocide.
Religious freedom advocates had hoped the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would have considered and passed the bill by September, but its leaders did not get to it. So they are now urging Senate leaders to markup and pass the bill during the lame duck session of Congress in November-December. Senate staff members have told participants of the IRF Roundtable that they are shooting to be able to move forward when Congress reconvenes after the elections.
For further information about the bill, including summary and text, click here.