Calling it a “moral and national security imperative,” President Trump issued an executive order Tuesday providing $50 million to promote religious freedom around the world and to pressure countries that are the worst violators to change their policies.
The order provides at least $50 million per fiscal year for “programs that advance international religious freedom,” according to the order’s text. The State Department and USAID – an agency of the federal government – will decide where the money goes.
“Such programs shall include those intended to anticipate, prevent, and respond to attacks against individuals and groups on the basis of their religion,” says the order, which was labeled an “Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom.”
The $50 million also will be used to:
- “ensure that such [religious] groups can persevere as distinct communities;
- “promote accountability for the perpetrators of such attacks;
- “ensure equal rights and legal protections for individuals and groups regardless of belief;
- “improve the safety and security of houses of worship and public spaces for all faiths; and,
- “protect and preserve the cultural heritages of religious communities” around the world.
The order requires the Secretary of State, within 180 days and with the consultation of USAID, 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 State Department and USAID.
It also requires the State and Treasury Departments to “develop recommendations” to “prioritize the appropriate use of economic tools to advance international religious freedom” in countries that are serious violators.
Further, the order requires State Department civil service employees to receive training on international religious freedom.
“Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative,” the order says. “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. As stated in the 2017 National Security Strategy, our Founders understood religious freedom not as a creation of the state, but as a gift of God to every person and a right that is fundamental for the flourishing of our society.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) applauded the administration for the order.
“No one should be persecuted because of their religion or beliefs,” said Kelsey Zorzi, ADF’s international director of global religious freedom. “For too long, many countries have violated the fundamental rights of people of faith without any consequences. This executive order ensures that religious freedom will be thoroughly incorporated into U.S. foreign policy. It is a much-needed boost to efforts to protect everyone’s inalienable right to religious freedom.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.