Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Passed House amended (05/16/2016)

Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act

(Sec. 2) This bill amends the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) to state in the congressional findings that the freedom of thought and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs as well as the right not to profess or practice any religion.

TITLE I--DEPARTMENT OF STATE ACTIVITIES

(Sec. 101) In order to promote religious freedom as a U.S. foreign policy interest, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom: (1) shall coordinate international religious freedom policies across all U.S. programs and activities, and (2) is urged to participate in any interagency processes in which the promotion of international religious freedom policy can advance U.S. national security interests.

The bill expresses the sense of Congress that the Department of State should consider elevating the office of International Religious Freedom and the position of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom to the Office of the Secretary.

(Sec. 102) The deadline for submitting the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom is changed from September 1 to May 1 (or the first day thereafter on which the appropriate House of Congress is in session).

Such report shall include information about:

  • severe violations of religious freedom in a country where a government does not exist or does not control its territory;
  • identification of prisoners in a country;
  • action taken by a government to censor religious content, communications, or worship activities online;
  • persecution of human rights advocates seeking to defend the rights of members of religious groups or highlight religious freedom violations, including prohibitions on ritual animal slaughter or male infant circumcision; and
  • country-specific analysis of the impact of U.S. actions on religious freedom.

The executive summary of each such report shall include: (1) information about a country in which a non-state actor is designated as an entity of particular concern for religious freedom, and (2) a Special Watch List that shall identify each country that engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom but which the President determines does not meet all the criteria for designation as a country of particular concern for religious freedom.

The bill expresses the sense of Congress that given that the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices no longer contain updated information on religious freedom conditions globally, it is important that the State Department and the Commission on International Religious Freedom work together to fulfill the original intent of the IRFA.

(Sec. 103) The Foreign Service Act of 1980 is amended to direct the State Department to develop a curriculum for, and the Director of the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center to begin, mandatory training on religious freedom for all Foreign Service officers. The State Department shall submit a plan within 180 days for undertaking such training.

(Sec. 104) The commission shall make publicly available lists of persons who are imprisoned, detained, disappeared, placed under house arrest, tortured, or subject to forced renunciations of religious faith by the government of a foreign country or by a non-state actor that the commission recommends for designation as a country or entity of particular concern for religious freedom.

TITLE II--NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL

(Sec. 201) The National Security Act of 1947 is amended to express the sense of Congress that there should be within the National Security Council staff a Special Adviser to the President on International Religious Freedom with primary responsibility to serve as a religious freedom resource for executive branch officials.

TITLE III--PRESIDENTIAL ACTIONS

(Sec. 301) The President: (1) concurrent with the annual review of the status of religious freedom in foreign countries required under the IFRA, shall identify any non-state actors operating in a reviewed country or surrounding region that have engaged in particularly severe violations of religious freedom, (2) shall designate each such non-state actor as an entity of particular concern for religious freedom, and (3) shall submit a report detailing the reasons for such designation.

The bill expresses the sense of Congress that the State Department should work with Congress to create new political, financial, and diplomatic tools to address severe violations of religious freedom by non-state actors.

The President shall, with respect to each non-state actor designated as an entity of particular concern for religious freedom, determine the specific officials or members who are responsible for such violations.

(Sec. 302) The deadline for such annual review is changed from September 1 to not later than 90 days after a review is submitted.

The President shall designate as a country of particular concern for religious freedom a country that appears on the special watch list in more than two consecutive annual reports.

(Sec. 303) The President's report on action taken in response to violations of religious freedom or on designation of a country as a country of particular concern for religious freedom shall include: (1) an evaluation of the impact on the advancement of U.S. interests in democracy, human rights, and security; and (2) a description of policy tools being applied in the country, including programs that target democratic stability, economic growth, and counter-terrorism.

(Sec. 304) The waiver of specified presidential actions subsequent to the designation of a country as a country of particular concern for religious freedom is limited to 180 days. The bill prescribes additional presidential waiver authority after such 180-period.

The bill expresses the sense of Congress that: (1) ongoing waivers do not fulfill the purposes of the IRFA; and (2) the President, the State Department, and other executive branch officials should find ways to address existing violations through presidential actions.

(Sec. 305) The bill directs the President to publish in the Federal Register: (1) any designation of a non-state actor as an entity of particular concern for religious freedom, and (2) the identities of individuals responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by non-state actors.

TITLE IV--PROMOTION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

(Sec. 401) The bill expresses the sense of Congress that: (1) the State Department should make specified assistance available to promote international religious freedom, and (2) preference for such assistance should be given to projects targeting religious freedom violations in countries designated as countries of particular concern for religious freedom and in countries on the special watch list.

TITLE V--DESIGNATED PERSONS LIST FOR PARTICULARLY SEVERE VIOLATIONS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

(Sec. 501) The State Department shall establish the Designated Persons List for Particularly Severe Violations of Religious Freedom of foreign individuals who are sanctioned (through visa denials, financial sanctions, or other measures) for ordering or otherwise directing particularly severe violations of freedom religion. The State Department shall submit the initial list within 180 days and provide updates every 180 days.

TITLE VI--MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS

(Sec. 601) The bill express the sense of Congress that U.S. institutions of higher education operating campuses outside the United States or establishing educational entities with foreign governments, particularly with or in countries that engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom, should adopt a voluntary code of operating conduct that should:

  • uphold the right of freedom of religion of their employees and students;
  • ensure that the religious views and peaceful practice of religion in no way affect the status of a worker's or faculty member's employment or a student's enrollment; and
  • make every effort in all negotiations, contracts, or memoranda of understanding engaged in with a foreign government to protect academic freedom and the rights enshrined in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

The bill expresses the sense of Congress that the President's annual national security strategy report should (1) promote international religious freedom as a foreign policy and national security priority; and (2) be a guide for the strategies and activities of relevant federal agencies, including the Department of Defense quadrennial defense review.