CIRIS managing director Judd Birdsall has published an article entitled ‘Keep the Faith: How American Diplomacy Got Religion, and How to Keep It‘ in the summer 2016 issue of The Review of Faith & International Affairs.
In his article, Birdsall argues that “any discussion of post-Obama U.S. international religious freedom (IRF) policy needs to acknowledge two basic structural realities. First, the State Department’s IRF Office is arguably the strongest and healthiest it has ever been. Second, the State Department as a whole is more institutionally attentive to religion than at any time in living memory. The next administration will have the duty and opportunity to consider afresh where IRF fits—conceptually, practically, and bureaucratically—within the State Department’s greatly expanded architecture for religion and diplomacy.”
The full summer 2016 issue of the journal, with its collection of essays on “Faith, Freedom, and Foreign Policy: Recommendations for the Next President,” is available here.
Note: this article by Judd Birdsall was originally published by Georgetown University’s Cornerstone blog on 6 June 2016.
In May the House passed a bipartisan bill that would bring America’s global religious freedom advocacy into the twenty-first century. The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (H.R. 1150) provides a number of critical updates and upgrades to the existing International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The new bill—or Marco Rubio’s nearly identical Senate version (S. 2878)—merits the Senate’s prompt approval.
In its day the 1998 IRFA was an innovative, landmark piece of legislation. It created a vast architecture—an ambassador-at-large, State Department office, independent commission, reports, lists, sanctions, and other tools—for advancing religious freedom abroad. It became a model for other liberal democracies as they joined the fight for freedom of religion and belief worldwide.
But in the intervening 18 years, as scholarship on religion in global affairs has raced forward and the dynamics of religious persecution have morphed and complexified, the legislative mandate of U.S. IRF policy has remained stuck in the ’90s.
I served in the State Department’s IRF Office during the Bush and Obama administrations and experienced first-hand how the 1998 act created both important opportunities and conceptual, bureaucratic, and practical obstacles to a more effective U.S. promotion of religious liberty.