Adventists welcome new US International Religious Freedom law

Church leaders encourage governments in every country to protect and promote freedom of religion and belief.

The new religious freedom legislation is named for former US Congressman Frank R. Wolf, a veteran advocate for the rights of religious minorities around the world. Congressman Wolf is pictured speaking in May 2016 at the Adventist Church’s Religious Liberty Summit in Washington, D.C. [photo credit: Maria Bryk/Newseum]

Legislation signed into law last week by United States President Barack Obama represents a much-needed step forward in the global effort to combat religious persecution, says the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s liaison to Washington, D.C.

Dwayne Leslie, an associate director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department for the Adventist world church, says the impact of the new law is potentially significant. It increases the emphasis on religious liberty issues within US foreign policy—such as requiring religious freedom training for all diplomatic officers, mandating tracking of religious repression around the world, and raising the status of the office of the Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.

“In recent years, we’ve seen the devastation of Christian communities in the Middle East, along with increasing religious violence in so many parts of the world—from Nigeria, to Pakistan, to the countries of Central Asia,” says Leslie. “As Adventists, we believe that every person, regardless of where they live, has a right to worship or not to worship according to their conscience. This fundamental freedom is one that governments around the world have a responsibility to both recognize and protect.”

The passage of bill, known as the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, came in the final legislative moments of 2016 and was passed by unanimous consent by the US House of Representatives after earlier passage by the Senate. This was the last step in a five-year-long effort to pass the bill. President Obama signed the legislation into law on December 16.

“The Adventist Church encourages governments of every country to protect and promote human rights, generally, and the principle of freedom of religion or belief, in particular,” explains Leslie. “As such, we are pleased to have been a part of the advocacy effort that helped move this legislation forward.”

“We pray that this new law will stimulate greater awareness, both within the United States and around the world, of the pivotal place that religious freedom occupies within the pantheon of human rights,” says Leslie. “And most importantly, we hope that it will help shine a spotlight on the plight of the many millions of men, women and children—members of vulnerable religious minorities—who suffer hostility or worse for choosing to remain faithful to their conscience.”

Dr. Ganoune Diop, director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department of the world church, says that supporting legislation such as this within every nation’s political system is a core part of the work of PARL. “Here at the world church headquarters, as well as at each of the church’s 13 world divisions, PARL leaders are charged with monitoring legislation, and advocating for legal change that will increase protections for religious freedom for all,” he says. This, he adds, is a vital part of the church’s more than 150-year commitment to promoting religious liberty as a fundamental human right.

The law is named after former US Congressman Frank Wolf—a lawmaker known for his relentless efforts, for more than two decades, to protect religious minorities around the world. Wolf was a keynote speaker, earlier this year, at the Adventist Church’s International Religious Liberty Summit, held at the Newseum in Washington D.C.