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June 8, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The Trump Administration has been a stalwart defender of religious liberty at home. Now a new presidential order puts America squarely on the side of protecting and advancing religious liberty abroad.
The new executive order, signed on June 2, is called “Advancing International Religious Freedom.” Its intent is to put religious freedom on an equal footing with the many other American interests that our diplomats are charged to advance.
Such an order has long been sorely needed. As someone who has worked on human rights issues for decades, I can personally attest to the fact that human rights concerns in general, and religious freedom issues in particular, are neglected in U.S. foreign policy. Economic, trade, and security issues are put in one “basket,” and are pursued with vigor and persistence. Religious freedom issues are placed in a second “basket”, which is all too often given much less attention by America’s diplomats.
If you are learning about the new executive order for the first time, you are not alone. The mainstream media, not surprisingly, has almost totally ignored the President’s action. For the most part, its “reporters” are too busy breathlessly hyping the orchestrated anarchy that has gripped American streets, too busy concocting false narratives about the actions of this President, and far too hostile to religious believers in general, to even bother taking notice.
“Advancing International Religious Freedom” begins with a resounding declaration:
“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 … 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.”
Lest anyone discount this as mere rhetoric, the executive order follows with a series of concrete action items, beginning with what is essentially a warning to governments to respect religious freedom: “It is the policy of the United States to engage robustly and continually with [religious communities and organizations]— including those in foreign countries — to inform United States Government policies, programs, and activities related to international religious freedom.”
In other words, if you persecute people of faith, we will find out about it, and there will be consequences.
The executive order calls for the drafting of a plan to prioritize international religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy, budgets at least $50 million a year for programs that advance it, and mandates that all federal employees stationed overseas receive training in the concept and practice of religious freedom. The order also states that “faith-based and religious entities, including eligible entities in foreign countries shall not be discriminated against” when they apply for funding.
The executive order then lays out a series of actions that the U.S. will take against countries and individuals who engage in such persecution. Countries that engage in systemic, ongoing, and serious violations of religious freedom will lose foreign aid and access to U.S. visas, while those individuals and groups persecuted will receive assistance. As far as those government actors who persecute religious believers–such as the Communist Chinese officials who tear down churches, imprison millions, and rewrite the Bible–they will be submitted to the Magnitsky Act, and forfeit any property they may own in the U.S.
This past week, to illustrate his commitment to religious freedom, the President paid two visits to Christian sites. For this, he was viciously criticized by those who, for the most part, are only too eager to discard, or at least not defend, America’s Christian heritage.
On Monday, the President walked out of the White House to the historic St. John’s Church, which had been firebombed two nights before, and stood before it, Bible in hand. What was denounced as a “photo op” was actually a sign of respect for America’s cultural heritage and a visual vow to protect the country’s places of worship from those anarchists and rioters who might be tempted to destroy them. After all, the executive order he signed the next day pledges the US 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.”
On the morning of the signing, he made his second visit, this one to the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Northeast Washington. President Trump and first lady Melania Trump, who is Catholic, laid a wreath and prayed quietly in front of a statue of the late pope. They also visited the Madonna icon, a blood relic of the pope, and the Luminous Mysteries Chapel.
It was a very low-key visit, yet for some reason, it served to arouse the wrath of Archbishop Wilton Gregory. You would think Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C., would be pleased that the highest-ranking elected officials in the U.S. was praying—with his Catholic wife—at a Catholic shrine. Instead, he was infuriated:
“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree. Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
This prompted a scathing response from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., who criticized Archbishop Gregory in no uncertain terms as a “false shepherd whose way of life is full of lies, deceits, lust and corruption.”
The shrine itself responded by noting that the President was about to sign an executive order on international religious freedom. The visit was “fitting given St. John Paul II was a tireless advocate of religious liberty throughout his pontificate. … The shrine welcomes all people to come and pray and learn about the legacy of St. John Paul II.”
I would add only that Saint John Paul II was also an ardent anti-Communist, who would have recognized the anarchists and instigators of the recent riots for what they were—Left-wing thugs of Marxist inspiration who seek only to destroy.
President Trump, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, should be commended for the new executive order, which will be enormously useful in addressing specific violations of religious freedom around the world, including those committed against Catholics in places like China and Nigeria.
This is something all Catholics should be celebrating.
Steven W. Mosher is the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order.