Today, we observe International Religious Freedom Day, a reminder that freedom of worship is a universal human right protected by the laws and Constitution of our Nation. Our work around the world has made it clear that countries that protect religious freedom tend to enjoy stronger economies, greater political stability, and more peaceful relations with their neighbors.
The U.S. Government designated October 27 as International Religious Freedom Day to commemorate the historic signing of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) in 1998. Protecting and promoting this fundamental freedom around the world has been a core tenet of U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance ever since.
But there is much more work for us to do. Believers of nearly all faiths, including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Bahá’ís, have faced increased religious oppression and persecution over the past decade. Earlier this year, President Trump affirmed that this Administration “remains cognizant of the stark realities for people seeking religious liberty abroad and has made protecting religious minorities a core pillar of [this] Administration’s foreign policy.”
On June 2, 2020, President Trump issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13926 on Advancing International Religious Freedom, and declared that the United States must continue “to engage robustly and continually with civil society organizations to inform United States Government policies, programs, and activities related to international religious freedom.” The implementation of E.O. 13926 by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will build on our ongoing work with persecuted communities in Northern Iraq, Northeast Nigeria, and Burma, and expand into other pockets of vulnerability around the world. We are refining our assistance tools to collaborate closely with local faith and community leaders, and to deliver aid rapidly to persecuted communities, families, and individuals who are facing the gravest threats.
I am pleased to be able to mark this International Religious Freedom Day by announcing the establishment of USAID’s new cross-Agency Sector Council on Strategic Religious Engagement and International Religious Freedom. The Senior Advisor to the Administrator for International Religious Freedom, Samah Norquist, and the Director of our Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives, Kirsten Evans, will serve as Co-Chairs of the Council.
President Trump and Vice President Pence have made advancing and protecting religious freedom around the world an American foreign-policy priority. This is indeed America’s first freedom, and USAID is proud to play a vital role in preserving it around the world.