On June 2, 2020, President Trump signed the “Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom,” which prioritizes international religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy and commits the State Department and USAID to promote religious freedom with their resources and in their foreign programming priorities.
This executive order comes over twenty years after Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and solidified the issue of religious freedom in the global discourse on human rights. Despite the symbolic importance of the Religious Freedom Act, it fell short in its efforts to integrate international religious freedom promotion into the mainstream of U.S. security, diplomacy, and development strategies. (For more on the incremental successes and shortfalls, see IGE’s special report, The Future of U.S. International Religious Freedom Policy).
President Trump’s executive order aims to provide the logistical support that the Religious Freedom Act lacked; it ensures that at least 50 million dollars will be provided each year to support State Department or USAID programs advancing religious freedom. The executive order also requires U.S. diplomatic missions to countries on the State Department’s list of religious freedom violators to develop an action plan to improve the state of religious freedom in the respective violator country. Training in religious freedom has been a hallmark of IGE’s work since our founding. IGE has successfully conducted religious freedom and rule of law trainings and conferences in China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Laos, reaching over 5,000 government officials, religious leaders, and academics
The executive order also requires training in religious freedom for State Department employees and invites organizations and communities to work with the government in promoting religious freedom. IGE is already doing this work for government leaders in foreign countries. For example, IGE recently facilitated the publication of the first-ever Vietnamese textbook on religious freedom. The textbook is now being integrated into the Vietnam National University’s Masters and Ph.D. programs, enabling the next generation of Vietnam’s leaders to be educated on the importance of religious freedom.
For more information on how IGE tangibly advances international religious freedom on the ground, see this article on how relational diplomacy works.