International Religious Freedom Act of 1998


International Religious Freedom Act of 1998

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (Public Law 105–292, as amended by Public Law 106–55, Public Law 106–113, Public Law 107–228, Public Law 108–332, and Public Law 108–458) [cite web|url=http://www.uscirf.gov/about/authorizinglegislation.html |title= United States Commission on International Religious Freedom | accessdate = August 1 | accessyear = 2006] was passed to promote religious freedom as a U.S. Foreign policy, and to advocate on the behalf of the individuals viewed as persecuted in foreign countries on the account of religion. The United States, through its constitution and various international agreements, supposedly has an obligation to support religious freedom around the world by skirmishing religious intolerance in countries that put sanctions on the religious rights of the people. The Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 27 1998.cite web
year = 1998
url = http://web.archive.org/web/20070608190937/http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/laws/majorlaw/intlrel.htm
title = International Religious Freedom Act of 1998
publisher = United States Government
accessdate = April 27
accessyear = 2006
] Three cooperative entities have been maintained by this act to monitor religious persecution.
#An ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom within the Department of State,
#A bipartisan commission on International Religious Freedom, and
#A special advisor on International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council.

While the original bill imposed mandatory sanctions on the countries supporting religious persecution, the amended act offers the president a waiver provision if he feels that it would further the goal of the bill or promote the interests of US national security not to impose measures on a designated country.

History

This Act was a response to the growing concern about religious persecution throughout the world. There had been instances of toleration on the part of the governments when the religious rights of their citizens and others had been violated. There are governments around the world which openly sponsor and tolerate restrictions on their citizens' right to practice, observe, study, or associate with other members of their religious faith.

The former Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor, John Shattuck, cited specific countries that fail to recognize the fundamental right of religious freedom. There is a civil war ensuing in Sudan because of the ruling party's intolerance of opposing religions. [cite web
year = 2003
url = http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v7/v7i2a29.htm
title = The Root Causes of the Sudan's Civil War
publisher = Indiana University Press
accessdate = April 28
accessyear = 2006
] The Chinese Catholics and Chinese Protestant groups battle government repression, and the Chinese government tightly regulates religious practices in the regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. [The data for this report could not be retrieved at this time, please try again later cite web
year = 1996
url = http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engASA170691996
title = People's Republic of China: Religious repression in China
publisher = Amnesty International
accessdate = April 28
accessyear = 2006
] Members of the Rohingya Muslim minority are forced to take refuge in the neighboring Bangladesh. There are suspect cases of minority oppression in Europe as well. Russia's new religion law seeks to make restraints and inhibit new religious communities' ability to own property, publish literature or operate schools. [cite web
year = 1997
url = http://www.ctlibrary.com/ct/1997/november17/7td066.html
title = Russia: New Religion Law Fraught with Potential for Abuses
publisher = ChristianityToday.com
accessdate = April 28
accessyear = 2006
] This Act tries to recognize such kind of blatant forms of religious discrimination and oppression. It finds that over one-half of the population of the world lives under regimes that have strict policies against basic religious freedoms. Title VII of the Act has noted that some regimes engage in persecution that includes subjection of those people who engage in practice of religious faiths that are not state sponsored, to detention, torture, beatings, forced marriage, rape, imprisonment, enslavement, mass resettlement and death. Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) in his speech to the Congress on October 2 1998 stated:

This Act was first introduced as H.R. 2431 by Representative Frank Wolf to the House of Representatives on September 9 1997. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) concurrently introduced the Senate version of the bill, S. 772. The legislation was passed on May 14 1998, by a vote of 375-41, and was subsequently sent to the Senate. Under consideration, this Act was proposed to be modified by Senator Nickles.

The primary aim of the modification was to allow the president to have more flexibility in responding to countries that violated the Act. The Nickles bill offered the president a waiver provision if he feels that it would promote the interest of the US national security to not impose measures on a designated country. The Senate agreed to the propositions on October 9 1998, approved by H.R. 2431 as amended by a vote of 98-0.

Organization

The Act has seven titles, each containing numerous sections. These are:

*Title I—Department of State Activity
*Title II—Commission on International Religious Freedom
*Title III—National Security Council
*Title IV—Presidential Actions
*Title V—Promotion of Religious Freedom
*Title VI—Refugee, Asylum, and Consular Matters
*Title VII—Miscellaneous Provisions

cope and substance of the Act

As per the Act, the Congress and the President are obligated to take into account the various issues of religious freedom while developing the country's foreign policy. As under the Title I of the Act, a bureaucratic infrastructure is created for dealing with religious issues. This is known as the Office of the International Religious Freedom which is regulated under the US Department of State. Title II creates the Commission on International Religious Freedom and Title III a special advisor to the president on international religious freedom within the National Security Council. The crux of the Act lies in Title IV. Title IV details the possible options available to the president and his actions based upon them in response to the states which violate the provisions under the Act. Under Sec. 401(b)(1), the President shall identify specific countries that the Commission on International Religious Freedom designates as having obstructed religious freedom. The president must then, with the consultation of the secretary of state, the ambassador at large, the National Security Council special advisor, and the commission, design a response to those countries. Human Rights Brief Volume VI, Issue 2, p. 18]

Countries that are severe violators of religious freedom are categorized under Sec 402 of the Act and this subjects them to punitive sanctions which are listed in Sec. 405. Under this section, the president must either enter into a binding agreement with the concerned country to end the religious persecution, or to choose from remedies outlined in Sec. 405 of the Act. This section offers the president with fifteen options to exercise against countries engaging in religious persecution. These include
* a private or a public demarche;
* a private or public condemnation;
* the delay or cancellation of scientific or cultural exchanges;
* the denial, delay, or cancellation of working, official or state visits;
* the withdrawing, limitation, or suspension of some forms of US aid;
* direction to public and private international institutions to deny assistance;
* and sanctions prohibiting the US government from entering into import or export agreements with the designated governments. Human Rights Brief Volume VI, Issue 2, p. 18]

Under Title IV, the president may waiver punitive measures against the concerned country. This would allow the president in balancing of the objectives of the bill with other US Foreign Policy interests. The Title V of the act seeks to promote religious freedom abroad through the way of international media, exchanges and foreign service awards for working to promote human rights. The Immigration and Naturalization Service officials are trained under the venues of Title VI of the Act.

The final provision of the Act, Title VII contains miscellaneous provisions, including 701, which urges transnational corporations to adopt codes of conduct sensitive to the right to freedom of religion. Human Rights Brief Volume VI, Issue 2, p. 18]

Office of International Religious Freedom

The Office of International Religious Freedom was formed under Title I of the International Religious Freedom Act, within the U.S. Department of State. This office is under a mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of US foreign policy. The office is headed by the Ambassador at Large John Hanford who was appointed to this position in May 2005, by the President of the United States under the aid and advice of the Senate. The main functions of the Office Director and the staff monitor religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, and recommend and implement policies in respective regions or countries.cite web
year = 2005
url = http://www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/
title = International Religious Freedom
publisher = US Department of State
accessdate = April 27
accessyear = 2006
]

The United States seeks to conform with international covenants that guarantee the inalienable right of religious freedom to every human being. The Act is committed to the promotion of freedom of religion and conscience throughout the world as a fundamental human right and a source of stability for all countries. It further seeks to assist newly formed democracies in implementing freedom of religion and conscience. Religious and human rights non-governmental organizations are sought to promote religious freedom. Furthermore, the USA seeks to identify and denounce regimes that are severe persecutors of their citizens or others on the basis of religious beliefs.

The Office is responsible for the monitoring of religious persecution and discrimination worldwide. Its specific activities include:
#It makes the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, which is submitted to the Congress annually by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the Act. This report supplements the most recent Human Rights Reports. It includes individual country chapters on the status of religious freedom. [cite web
year = 2005
url = http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/
title = International Religious Freedom Report
publisher = US Department of State
accessdate = April 27
accessyear = 2006
]
#On the basis of these annual reports, the Secretary of State will designate any country that commits systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom as a Country of Particular Concern or CPC. States so designated are subject to further actions, including economic sanctions by the United States.
#Meetings are organized with foreign government officials at all levels, as well as religious and human rights groups in the United States and abroad, to address the problem of religious freedom.
#A testimony is made before the United States Congress, on issues of international religious freedom.
#Maintaining a close cooperation with the independent United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
#Sponsorship of reconciliation programs in disputes that divide groups along lines of religious beliefs. The office seeks to support NGOs that are promoting reconciliation in such disputes.
#Outreach programs to American religious communities.

Commission on International Religious Freedom

This commission is an independent nine-member, bipartisan US government agency that was created to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and the United States Congress. [cite web
year = 2006
url = http://www.uscirf.gov/
title = United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Washington, DC
publisher = USCIRF
accessdate = April 27
accessyear = 2006
] This commission is funded entirely by the federal government on an annual basis and staffed by government employees.

The Commission is responsible for determining the effect of other countries' policies on religious groups, and if necessary, holding Congressional hearings to educate Congress and the public about religious persecution around the world. The Commission may not implement sanctions on countries that violate religious freedom as it only has advisory and monitoring authority, including the authority to hold hearings. While the Department of State report contains a detailed country-by-country analysis of religious freedom, the Commission's report covers few countries, but makes policy recommendations to the executive and legislative branches of the government. The Commission report also reviews and analyzes the work of Department of State.

pecial Advisor on International Religious Freedom

The President is assigned a special advisor on international religious freedom within the National Security Council by Title III of the Act. Under the Act, the special advisor is designated to serve as a resource for executive branch officials, compiling and analyzing information on the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom and formulating possible US reactions to religious persecution in the light of US national security interests. The position of the director shall be comparable to that of the director within the executive office of the President.

Justification and legal basis

This Act has been justified by the US Congress on the basis of constitutional and international law principles. Several of the sponsors of the bill have expressed that the United States was born out of the need for religious freedom and that this principle was codified in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The First Amendment explicitly guarantees the fundamental right of religious freedom and liberty to practice any faith as according to one's choice. Their contention made, to this is that the United States has the duty to uphold this fundamental right. During a speech about the Act, on October 9, 1998, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), gave the reason as to why the founding fathers were drawn to America,Lieberman believed that by supporting this act the US Citizens could honor the country's founders for creating the first amendment to the Constitution.

The principles of international law were made inherent in the act so as to clarify its commitment to promote international religious freedom. As per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), religious freedom is one of the most fundamental human rights outlined. This right explicitly includes the freedom to change religious faith or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance." All the members of the United Nations have adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the virtue of their UN membership and are pledged to uphold its provisions. The Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was ratified with reservations in April 1992, also includes a freedom of religion clause similar to that of the UDHR's. The principles in the above-mentioned international law documents, according to the Act, create a sense of responsibility in its governments to protect the freedom of religion, which the Act does by exercising the United States' ability to choose its limit in dealing with countries that violate religious freedom.

The justification for this Act lies on the guarantee of freedom of religion found in the US Constitution and in principles of international law. Critics of this Act would probably contend that while the US Constitution does prohibit Federal and State governments from infringing on the religious liberties of people living within the US, it does not obligate or permit the US to use embargo or military intervention as means to uphold these rights abroad.

References

ee also

*United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
*Religious intolerance
*Country of Particular Concern
*Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights
*Religion in the United States

External links

* [http://www.uscirf.gov/ United States Commission on International Religious Freedom]
* [http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/laws/majorlaw/intlrel.htm Text of International Religious Freedom Act of 1998]
* [http://watch.pair.com/persecution.html Freedom from Religious Persecution - What other societies think]
* [http://www.ncccusa.org/assembly/irfa.html National Council of Churches, USA]
* [http://www.murthy.com/arc_news/a_iiirfa.html Immigration Implications of International Religious Freedom Act of 1998]
* [http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/4633 A Foreign Policy for Foreign Religions] Patricia M. Y. Chang,"Foreign Policy in Focus," October, 11, 2007


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