US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order allocating $50 million to the State Department for causes related to the advancement of international religious freedom.
The order, signed by Trump on Tuesday, reads: "Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative. 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.”
One of the stipulations made by the President provides Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with 180 days to consult with the administrator of the US Agency for International Development and "develop a plan to prioritize international religious freedom in the planning and implementation of U.S. foreign policy and in the foreign assistance programs of the Department of State and USAID.”
The order also directs Pompeo to direct chiefs of missions in countries that are included on the US State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” to "encourage the host governments to make progress in eliminating violations of religious freedom.”
The State Department is also instructed to work with the Department of the Treasury to make "recommendations to prioritise the appropriate use of economic tools” to advance religious freedom across the globe; such tools will include “increasing religious freedom programming, realigning foreign assistance to better reflect country circumstances, or restricting the issuance of visas.”
Government departments will also be permitted to seize US-held assets from countries that are violating the religious freedoms of their citizens - a sanction made legal under the Global Magnitzky Act. Travel bans can also be enacted as a legitimate form of punishment.
In addition, the order stipulates that all State Department foreign affairs civil service employees must undergo training on international religious freedom issues every three years.
The order reads: "Within 90 days of the date of this order, the heads of all agencies that assign personnel to positions overseas shall submit plans to the President, through the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, detailing how their agencies will incorporate the type of training."
Rev Johnnie Moore, who has served as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called the order "historic" and noted that it was "clearly, partly meant to confront a resurgent communism typified by China’s CCP."
Sean Nelson of international religious freedom advocacy group ADF International praised the order as “huge.”
“A lot of great things in the #InternationalReligiousFreedom exec order,” he tweeted. “Greater flexibility for using econ tools, like sanctions & realignment of foreign assistance — $50 million for #IRF programming — Chiefs of Missions have to develop #IRF plans for their countries, greater training.”
Trump's signing ceremony was held shortly after he and the First Lady visited a shrine to the late Pope John Paul II, himself a staunch advocate for international religious freedom.