By Arielle Del Turco
With approximately 80 percent of the world's population living in countries high levels of religious oppression, persecution is a simmering global crisis. For years, U.S. officials have spoken of the importance of promoting religious freedom abroad. But what would it look like if American leaders took that seriously? The Trump administration has given us a glimpse, and it's impressive.
October 27th marks International Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the signing of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) in 1998. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted the significance of religious freedom and its place in foreign policy in a statement: "Born of the vision of America's founders, our government understood that an individual, irrespective of their religion or beliefs, should be free to organize their lives in accordance with their consciences. Religious freedom and other themes of human dignity are -- and will always remain -- a core U.S. foreign policy priority."
IRFA provided the U.S. government with institutional tools -- including the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom -- to advocate for religious freedom abroad in a more robust manner. Though not every presidential administration has embraced the issue, President Trump has appointed excellent officials such as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, who is deeply motivated to advocate for those persecuted around the world.
Ambassador Brownback, a longtime champion of international religious freedom, explains the importance of the issue this way: "I believe that when religious freedom flourishes, it releases the spiritual capital in a nation, opening the doors to greater economic opportunity and realization. When religious freedom flourishes, ideas flourish. The logic is simple: When people are free, countries win, societies win, security wins."
Several innovative ideas to advance religious freedom abroad have been enacted in the last few years. Earlier this year, Secretary Pompeo launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, a global coalition to join national leaders together to drive the issue of religious freedom forward around the world. In 2018, the State Department held the first annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, bringing hundreds of political and religious leaders together for a summit to strategize on the promotion of religious freedom abroad.
These are just a few of the many policy achievements from the last four years. Family Research Council has compiled a more extensive list of the Trump administration's international religious freedom accomplishments here. The Trump administration has done a lot to build an international movement to promote religious freedom. The development of this global movement will have an outsized impact and last far beyond presidential term limits.
A foremost foreign policy challenge of our time is navigating a complex relationship with China, the world's most powerful authoritarian regime, as well as one of the most notorious violators of religious freedom today.
Secretary Pompeo has been exceptionally bold and outspoken about the Chinese government's many human rights violations, applying public pressure and speaking up for oppressed religious minorities and dissidents in China. One national security advisor to President Trump encouraged everyone -- not only government officials -- to speak out against China's atrocities as well, quoting a former journalist who said, "What evil fears most is the publicly spoken truth."
The challenge presented by China is only growing larger, and it is critical that we have leaders in place that are up to the challenge, and not afraid to call out powerful regimes on the world stage.
When you cast your vote at the ballot box, only the presidential candidates are listed. What you cannot see are the many administration officials that will be placed into important roles shaping America's domestic and foreign policy. With the election one week away, it is worth considering which candidate ought to be entrusted with selecting officials to run vital U.S. agencies. President Trump has made a number of good appointments who are defending religious freedom around the world.
Ambassador Brownback has often said, "[i]f you can sell agricultural products to other countries, you can sell religious freedom." Indeed, diplomacy can go a long way towards securing human rights for vulnerable communities around the world, but it requires motivated people to be appointed and empowered to advance the cause.
As individuals, we can also do our part to promote religious freedom and raise awareness about persecution around the world. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel famously declared, "Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." That is a call to action not only to world leaders, but to us all.
For more on the significance of today, check out the Townhall column by FRC's Lela Gilbert, "It's Time to Applaud President Trump's Remarkable IRF Accomplishments."