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Congress Hits Refresh Button on U.S. International Religious Freedom Policy

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.

Continue reading at Cornerstone

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News & Events

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At CIRIS, we aim to equip students and scholars in Cambridge and beyond with a robust and nuanced appreciation for the role of religion in international politics that they will take with them into their future research and/or practice around the world. To this end, we host public lectures, academic seminars, and other events. We are also pursuing research projects that draw on the contributions of Cambridge-based academics.

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