H.R.1150-Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act Passes Congress
Legislation named for Wolf, holder of Wilson Chair in Religious Freedom at Baylor, amends the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998
WACO, Texas (Dec. 15, 2016) – With people of all faiths currently living through a crisis of religious freedom unparalleled in world history, the United States Congress has taken action and passed H.R.1150-Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act.
On Dec. 13, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass an amendment to the landmark international religious freedom law. The legislation, which was approved by the Senate on Dec. 10, was sent Dec. 15 to President Obama to be signed into law.
According to the text, the act “will improve the ability of the United States to advance religious freedom globally through enhanced diplomacy, training, counterterrorism, and foreign assistance efforts, and through stronger and more flexible political responses to religious freedom violations and violent extremism worldwide.”
Leaders, such as the act’s namesake, former Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf, holder of The Jerry and Susie Wilson Chair in Religious Freedom at Baylor University, have played a key role for many years in championing international religious freedom. More recently, Rep. Christopher H. Smith, R-New Jersey, has helped to spearhead the new legislation.
According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of the world’s population lives in nations where religion is severely restricted. The worst restrictions occur in regions outside the West, particularly in the Middle East, Africa, Russia, and South and East Asia.
“The crisis affects members of virtually every faith. In fact, more people are persecuted for their faith now than at any other time in history,” said Byron R. Johnson, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. “Currently, numerous individuals and organizations have acknowledged the need to create a movement in the United States for the protection of international and domestic religious freedom. These groups support achieving broad acceptance of religious liberty as a fundamental human right.”
The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act amends the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). Among other things, the bill requires an annual report on international religious freedom which will include information about: 1) severe violations of religious freedom; 2) identification of prisoners in a country; 3) action taken by a government to censor religious content, communications, or worship activities online; 4) persecution of human rights advocates seeking to defend the rights of members of religious groups or highlight religious freedom violations; and 5) country-specific analysis of the impact of U.S. actions on religious freedom.
According to Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project, a joint effort of Georgetown University and Baylor University, “This legislation will be instrumental in ensuring religious freedom becomes a priority for governments, civil society organizations, religious communities, businesses and the general public in the United States and around the world.”
David E. Garland, interim president of Baylor University, said, “Passage of this bill is an important first step, and it is time for faith-based leaders and institutions to be intentional in our efforts to remedy the plight of so many people around the world – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people of all faiths – who are suffering persecution.”
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.
ABOUT THE INSTITUTE FOR STUDIES OF RELIGION
Launched in August 2004, the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) exists to initiate, support and conduct research on religion, involving scholars and projects spanning the intellectual spectrum: history, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, political science, epidemiology, theology and religious studies. The institute’s mandate extends to all religions, everywhere, and throughout history, and embraces the study of religious effects on prosocial behavior, family life, population health, economic development and social conflict. While always striving for appropriate scientific objectivity, ISR scholars treat religion with the respect that sacred matters require and deserve.