The president signed the document after visiting the John Paul II Shrine in Washington.
President Trump issued an executive order Tuesday calling religious freedom a “moral and national security imperative” and a “foreign policy priority of the United States” that the nation will “respect and vigorously promote.”
The president signed the order at the White House after visiting the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington on the 41st anniversary of John Paul II’s visit to then-communist Poland. The pope, a native of Poland, repeatedly addressed religious and political freedom during the 1979 visit.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accompanied Trump and First Lady Melania Trump during the brief visit to the shrine, near the Catholic University of America. The president and first lady posed in front of the building and knelt in its chapel but did not make remarks.
“As stated in the 2017 National Security Strategy, our Founders understood religious freedom not as a creation of the state, but as a gift of God to every person and a right that is fundamental for the flourishing of our society,” Trump’s order states. “Religious communities and organizations, and other institutions of civil society, are vital partners in United States Government efforts to advance religious freedom around the world. It is the policy of the United States to engage robustly and continually with civil society organizations — including those in foreign countries — to inform United States Government policies, programs, and activities related to international religious freedom.”
Specifically, the order directs the U.S. Secretary of State to consult with the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and develop a plan to prioritize international religious freedom in the planning and implementation of foreign policy and in the foreign assistance programs of the Department of State and USAID. It asks that missions in countries known to be the worst violators of religious freedom “develop comprehensive action plans to inform and support the efforts of the United States to advance international religious freedom and to encourage the host governments to make progress in eliminating violations of religious freedom.”
Each year, the U.S. State Department issues a religious freedom report in which it designates the worst violators of religious freedom as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs.
“In meetings with their counterparts in foreign governments, the heads of agencies shall, when appropriate and in coordination with the Secretary, raise concerns about international religious freedom and cases that involve individuals imprisoned because of their religion,” the order says.
“The Secretary shall, in consultation with the Administrator of USAID, budget at least $50 million per fiscal year for programs that advance international religious freedom, to the extent feasible and permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations,” the order directs. “Such programs shall include those intended to anticipate, prevent, and respond to attacks against individuals and groups on the basis of their religion, including programs designed to help ensure that such groups can persevere as distinct communities; to promote accountability for the perpetrators of such attacks; to ensure equal rights and legal protections for individuals and groups regardless of belief; to improve the safety and security of houses of worship and public spaces for all faiths; and to protect and preserve the cultural heritages of religious communities.”
The order also calls for more federal employees who work abroad to undergo international religious freedom training.
Among those welcoming the executive order was the Christian Medical Association.
“We appreciate the determination of the U.S. government to advance freedom of faith for the people of other countries including health professionals serving in those countries who employ their faith to bring healing and hope to many patients,” said Dr. Mike Chupp, a general surgeon who served two decades in Kenya as medical director of Tenwek Hospital and now serves as CEO of the Christian Medical Association. “Hundreds of our members currently serve overseas, including at great personal danger in countries where Christians experience persecution, and we deeply appreciate efforts to secure religious freedom in all countries.”
“The commitment of the United States government to advancing religious freedom abroad — and the leadership of the Administration and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback as well as U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom chair Tony Perkins — serves as a vital encouragement to many people of faith suffering in countries where either the government or extremists or both are persecuting them simply for their beliefs,” added CMA Senior VP for Bioethics and Public Policy, Dr. Jeff Barrows.