WASHINGTON – The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) was signed into law on October 27, 1998, to elevate religious freedom as a foreign policy goal of the United States, promote religious freedom in countries that violate this basic human right, and strengthen advocacy on behalf of individuals persecuted in other countries on the basis of religion. IRFA established the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State and created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Both the Department of State and USCIRF issue annual reports that highlight egregious violations of religious freedom and offer recommendations for improvement.
People hold rosaries while participating in a roadside prayer rally marking Religious Freedom Week at St. James Church in Setauket, N.Y., June 24, 2020. The U.S. bishops’ theme for Religious Freedom Week 2023 is “Embracing the Divine Gift of Freedom.”(OSV News photo/CNS file, Gregory A. Shemitz)
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the passage of this landmark International Religious Freedom Act, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, issued the following statement:
“The Catholic Church has long recognized the essential and inviolable nature of religious freedom. In 1965, Pope St. Paul VI promulgated the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae, which stated that this right is founded ‘in the very dignity of the human person,’ so that everyone has a right to religious freedom. The declaration went on to say governments must protect the rights and safeguard the religious freedom of all its citizens so that ‘no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, within due limits.’
“Sadly, 80 percent of the world’s inhabitants live in countries where there are high levels of governmental or societal restrictions on religion, and restrictions have been steadily increasing for several years.
“As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act, let us join with our Holy Father in his prayer “that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion will everywhere be recognized and respected; these are fundamental rights, because they make us free to contemplate the heaven for which we were created.”