International Religious Freedom Act

Last fall, the US Congress passed a bill that makes promotion of religious freedom a foreign policy mandate, based on definitions in international covenants including Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

The law's provisions include:

*An ambassador at large and an office for international religious freedom in the State Department, with annual reports on violations of freedom and the US response; establishment of a religious freedom Internet site.

*A nine-member Commission on International Religious Freedom (three appointed by the Senate, three by the House, and three by the president) to review the violations and progress made and make policy recommendations to the president and Congress.

*Presidential actions in response when governments engage in or tolerate violations. The president may take various steps, but the most severe cases call for sanctions, which can be waived if a backlash might result or the national interest be harmed.

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