February 2017 Church & State - February 2017

Obama Signs Modified Religious Freedom Law

  AU admin

In one of his final acts before leaving office, President Barack Obama signed the newly-amended Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (IFRA), legislation that now includes protections for atheists, agnostics and other non-religious people worldwide. 

The original version of IFRA has been in place since 1998 and resulted in the establishment of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which monitors multiple countries’ religious-freedom violations against religious minorities.

The amended version of the law denounces targeting non-religious persons, especially those persecuted by terrorist groups, and states that “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs … and the right not to profess or practice any religion.”

This revision will allow U.S. presidents to place sanctions on countries that restrict religious freedom, and the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom will report violations to the U.S. Secretary of State. The changes also require Foreign Service officers to receive training on religious freedom values.

The legislation was met with support from right-leaning religious activists and moderate secular activists alike. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press, “The bipartisan nature of this passage shows us that religious freedom does not have to be a partisan issue but is rooted in our deepest commitments as Americans.”

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said in a statement that the revised law, which took four years of effort to include inclusive language protecting non-believers, is “a significant step toward full acceptance and inclusion for non-religious individuals.”

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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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