Historic Executive Order provides $50 million in aid for advancing global religious freedom

June 12, 2020 by Isaac Six in Advocacy

On June 2, 2020, President Trump issued the Executive Order to Advance International Religious Freedom. While executive orders (EO’s) are a fairly common tool that allows the president to manage the operations of the federal government, this order is believed to be the first-ever to exclusively address the issue of international religious freedom.

 

So what does it say?

First, the order lays the groundwork for why religious freedom around the world needs to be addressed and the commitment of the United States to do so. Section one, in part, reads “Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative.  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.”

Section one goes on to highlight that civil society (this includes groups like Open Doors USA and our partners working with the persecuted around the world) and others are “vital partners in United States Government efforts to advance religious freedom around the world. It is the policy of the United States to engage robustly and continually with civil society organizations— including those in foreign countries—to inform United States Government policies, programs and activities related to international religious freedom.”

This is great news for the many faith leaders, non-profits and others that help make the work of advancing religious freedom possible.

Even better, though, are sections two through six, where the EO goes on to create some of the strongest improvements to United States policy on international religious freedom in the past several decades.

In short, these improvements include:

  • The creation of a new plan by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to promote religious freedom in our foreign policy and foreign aid work
  • $50 million a year (an unprecedented amount) in funding for advancing religious freedom, which includes programs “intended to anticipate, prevent and respond to attacks against individuals and groups on the basis of their religion”
  • Ensure faith-based groups are not discriminated against in U.S. foreign assistance programs
  • New “comprehensive” action plans to be developed by U.S. embassies in some of the most challenging countries for raising religious freedom
  • Training on religious freedom promotion for all federal employees to be posted overseas
  • The creation of new economic tools to incentivize countries to adopt religious freedom, including “increasing religious freedom programming, realigning foreign assistance to better reflect country circumstances, or restricting the issuance of visas…”

Soon after the order was issued, Open Doors USA met with officials in the State Department and got their take on it. One official pointed out that the order essentially creates a “whole of government” approach to international religious freedom, ensuring that all of the numerous agencies that deploy Americans overseas must, to some degree, be knowledgeable about religious freedom conditions in the countries where they work.

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For many who have advocated in Washington, D.C., on these issues, including Open Doors USA, the EO is an affirmation of their efforts and an answer to prayer. Too often, trying to raise international religious freedom has meant talking to government officials largely unaware of the problem or skeptical about taking any action. The new EO is a major step forward in addressing this and, frankly, it’s a step many of us would not have thought possible just a few short years ago.

There is still much work to be done with the new order. A lot of hard-working individuals in and out of government will have to put the plan into action in the coming months—and that’s no small task. Please pray that everyone involved, including leaders at the White House, the National Security Council, the State Department and USAID, have wisdom as they seek to implement this plan. Their success in enacting this order could make a difference in the lives of millions of people who still do not have the freedom to follow their faith without fear of persecution.

For more information on our advocacy work, please visit our advocacy page here: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/take-action/advocacy/

Isaac Six serves as director of advocacy for Open Doors USA and is based in Washington, D.C. He has worked on religious freedom issues and Christian persecution in Washington for over eight years, including inside and outside of government; and has traveled extensively to meet with victims of religious freedom violations around the globe.

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