President Donald Trump issued an executive order on advancing international religious freedom Tuesday, shortly after visiting a Washington D.C. shrine to Pope John Paul II.
“Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative,” the order states. “Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the United States, and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom.”
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,” it reads.
Mr. Trump was reviled by leftwing media and pundits for visiting St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been torched and defaced by protesters, as well as the National Shrine to Pope John Paul II. St. John’s is the house of worship used by American presidents for over a century and the First Lady is Roman Catholic.
The Catholic archbishop of Washington, DC, Wilton D. Gregory, denounced the president’s visit to the shrine, saying that Saint John Paul would have disapproved of “the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate [people] for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
Others were quick to join the chorus of disapproval
In his executive order, Mr. Trump said that the Secretary of State will “develop a plan to prioritize international religious freedom in the planning and implementation of United States foreign policy and in the foreign assistance programs of the Department of State and USAID.”
The Secretary will also give financial support to programs that advance international religious freedom, including those intended “to anticipate, prevent, and respond to attacks against individuals and groups on the basis of their religion.”
In its foreign policy, the government will also direct Chiefs of Mission in countries that have engaged in or tolerated violations of religious freedom to develop action plans to support efforts to advance international religious freedom and to “encourage the host governments to make progress in eliminating violations of religious freedom.”
The government will also offer international religious freedom training for federal officials.
Last February, the Trump administration launched the “International Religious Freedom Alliance,” which it describes as “a network of likeminded countries fully committed to advancing freedom of religion or belief around the world.”
“The Alliance is predicated on the idea more must be done to protect members of religious minority groups and combat discrimination and persecution based on religion or belief,” its website states.
The 27 founding member states of the alliance are Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Gambia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Togo, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States.
At the roll-out of the alliance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that more than 8 in 10 people in the world currently live in a place where they cannot practice their faith freely.
“We condemn terrorists and violent extremists who target religious minorities, whether they are Yezidis in Iraq, Hindus in Pakistan, Christians in northeast Nigeria, or Muslims in Burma,” he said.