Trump Signs Executive Order to Promote Religious Freedom Around the World

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WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 2 to prioritize religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy and assistance programs.

“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 states.

Within six months of the date of the order, the secretary of state, together with the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is to “develop a plan to prioritize international religious freedom in the planning and implementation of United States foreign policy and in the foreign assistance programs of the Department of State and USAID.”

The new order also allocates at least $50 million per year for programs that promote international religious freedom.

The Treasury Department may also consider sanctions on individuals involved in religious persecution by implementing the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, among other things. The law empowers the U.S. government to place visa bans and block the assets of human rights abusers and corrupt officials around the world.

Eighty percent of the world’s population lives in countries where religious liberty is threatened or banned.

In September 2019, Trump called on countries to end religious persecution around the world at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. He was the first leader to initiate such a discussion at the UNGA high-level meetings.

He urged governments to stop persecuting their citizens, release prisoners of conscience, eliminate laws that restrict religion, and protect oppressed people.

Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit welcomed Trump’s announcement.

“I am encouraged that the Executive Order emphasizes that religious freedom is not just a nice-to-have human right. It explicitly states as U.S. policy that ‘religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative,’” he stated in an email.

It also takes important steps, such as “requiring religious freedom training for all overseas diplomatic personnel, and developing new economic tools to promote religious freedom and sanction individuals and countries who abuse religious freedom,” he added.

In its annual report released in April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) identified 14 countries of particular concern, including Burma, China, India, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

China has been a growing concern for Washington. USCIRF Commissioner Gary L. Bauer told The Epoch Times that the long list of religious violations and the Chinese regime’s growing hostility toward religion have made China the world’s “worst abuser of religious liberty.”

“China has declared war on all religious faith,” he said, adding that the regime has become “an international threat.”

Persecution in China

The Chinese regime has been consistently designated by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for its poor record on religious freedom since 1999.

Religious groups of all kinds are under attack in China, including Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslims, and adherents of the ancient spiritual discipline Falun Gong. They suffer from systematic arrest, unlawful imprisonment, torture, and brainwashing. According to researchers, the government is using various methods of persecution, which include forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience.

Beijing has built detention camps to detain an estimated 1 million Uyghur and other ethnic minority Muslims in the far western Xinjiang region. Elsewhere, the demolition of underground churches and other houses of worship continues.


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