From his perch on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this week U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., praised the U.S. State Department’s latest efforts on advancing religious freedom across the globe.
The State Department released its latest International Religious Freedom Report which it has been producing for almost two decades.
U.S. Sec. of State Rex Tillerson unveiled the report on Tuesday.
“Almost 20 years after the law’s passage, conditions in many parts of the world are far from ideal,” Tillerson said. “Religious persecution and intolerance remains far too prevalent. Almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion. Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root.
“We cannot ignore these conditions,” Tillerson added. “The Trump administration has committed to addressing these conditions in part by advancing international religious freedom around the world. The State Department will continue to advocate on behalf of those seeking to live their lives according to their faith."
Tillerson pointed to “egregious and troubling examples” of groups hindering religious freedom including Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism and genocide efforts, the Iranian regime cracking down on the Baha’i community and Christians, Saudi Arabian efforts against non-Muslims and Shia Muslims, Turkish authorities going after non-Sunni Muslims and non-Muslims and other problems in the Middle East.
Other countries that Tillerson signaled out for cracking down on religious freedom include China’s efforts against Falun Gong members and Tibetan Buddhists, the Pakistan government’s treatment of Ahmadiyya Muslims and the Sudan government;s actions against Christians.
“No one should have to live in fear, worship in secret, or face discrimination because of his or her beliefs,” Tillerson said. “As President Trump has said, we look forward to a day when, quote, ‘people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience’... The State Department will continue its efforts to make that a reality.”
Rubio weighed in on the report on Wednesday, giving State Department high marks.
“I commend Secretary of State Tillerson for personally releasing the State Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report and helping to underscore how seriously the United States takes this fundamental human right," Rubio said. “I welcome the secretary's unequivocal characterization of the Islamic State’s atrocities against Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities as genocide, and his recognition that the promotion of religious freedom globally is both a strategic and moral imperative.
“The report powerfully documents the assaults on religious freedom that occur around the world every day,” Rubio continued. “Government authorities arrest and unjustly imprison religious leaders and people of faith, bulldoze worship buildings and deny building permits, institute blasphemy and apostasy laws that silence dissent and carry the death penalty, and tacitly support others’ attacks on religious minorities. These violations are a clear threat to the ability of people to peacefully live out their faith according to their conscience, and the need for principled and steadfast American leadership in this area has never been greater. Robust implementation of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act must be a priority in the days ahead.”
Rubio was instrumental in the law that Tillerson mentioned.
Back in April 2016, Rubio teamed up with fellow Senate Republicans Roy Blount of Missouri and John Cornyn of Texas to introduce the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act which altered the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 by giving the International Religious Freedom Office in the State Department more authority and the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom more power, including reporting directly to the Secretary of State.
The bill from Rubio, Blount and Cornyn also created a watch list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) while labeling non-state bodies “Entities of Particular Concern” when it comes to actions against religious freedom.
The proposal also gave the White House the ability to sanction “individuals who carry out or order religious restrictions” and increases reporting on genocides directed at particular religions. Back in December, Congress sent the bill to then President Barack Obama.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump nominating then Gov. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Rubio is a strong supporter of the nomination.