by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right of every person on earth. It has been recognized by international accords and by the Second Vatican Council. But religious liberty is under attack in many countries around the world.

The United States committed itself to the promotion of religious liberty through its foreign policy in the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The law provides that it will be the policy of the United Sates to condemn violations of religious freedom and to promote and assist other governments in the promotion of the fundamental right to freedom of religion.

720px-USCIRF-Logo.svgCongress felt it was necessary to make this clear in the IRFA because it is easy to forget about religious freedom when policymakers are so focused on national security, economic issues and other human rights that religious freedom is forgotten.

Although much of the motivation for passage of this act was concern over the persecution of Christians, the law is generic — it applies to all religions.

The IRFA provides for the creation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), to which President Barack Obama recently appointed me. The purpose of the commission is to review annually the efforts of the U.S. government in implementing the IRFA…

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