The Office of International Religious Freedom has the mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. The office is headed by Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook. We monitor religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommend and implement policies in respective regions or countries, and develop programs to promote religious freedom.
Given the U.S. commitment to religious freedom, and to the international covenants that guarantee it as the inalienable right of every human being, the United States seeks to:
Promote freedom of religion and conscience throughout the world as a fundamental human right and as a source of stability for all countries;
Assist emerging democracies in implementing freedom of religion and conscience;
Assist religious and human rights NGOs in promoting religious freedom;
Identify and denounce regimes that are severe persecutors on the basis of religious belief.
The office carries out its mission through:
The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. The report contains an introduction, executive summary, and a chapter describing the status of religious freedom in each of 195 countries throughout the world. Mandated by, and presented to, the U.S. Congress, the report is a public document available online and in book form from the U.S. Government Printing Office.
The designation by the Secretary of State (under authority delegated by the President) of nations guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom as “Countries of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (H.R. 2431) and its amendment of 1999 (Public Law 106-55). Nations so designated are subject to further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.
Meetings with foreign government officials at all levels, as well as religious and human rights groups in the United States and abroad, to address problems of religious freedom.
Testimony before the United States Congress on issues of international religious freedom.
Close cooperation with the independent United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Sponsorship of reconciliation programs in disputes which divide groups along lines of religious identity. The office seeks to support NGOs that are promoting reconciliation in such disputes.
Programs of outreach to American religious communities.
For information on religious freedom in the United States please check the website of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, which publishes a newsletter, Religious Freedom in Focus, covering cases involving religious freedom around the United States. In addition a number of NGOs who monitor human rights issues around the world also report on conditions in the United States
The Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 begins by acknowledging an increase in acts of anti-Semitism, even in established democracies, and rearticulates the USG’s commitment to combating anti-Semitism worldwide. The legislation calls for a Report on Global Anti-Semitism, reviewing acts of anti-Semitism and actions taken by governments to respond to those acts. The Global Anti-Semitism Review Act also establishes the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the State Department, headed by the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. In addition to monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, the Special Envoy is responsible for coordinating anti-Semitism reporting in the annual Human Rights Reports and the International Religious Freedom Report.
Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998. The legislation affirms America’s commitment to religious freedom, enshrined both in the United States Constitution and in numerous international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The International Religious Freedom Act (The Act) acknowledges the pressure and persecution that many around the world face because of their religious beliefs and requires the President to take a series of steps toward the protection and promotion of freedom of religion.
The Act establishes the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department and instructs the President to appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom to head the office and advise the Secretary of State and the President on issues related to international religious freedom. The Ambassador is also responsible for providing information related to religious freedom to be included in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Human Rights Reports) and preparing a separate Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (International Religious Freedom Report (IRFR)). The IRFR describes the status of religious freedom in every country, highlights trends and violations, and details the actions that the United States government is taking to improve freedom of religion.
The legislation also establishes the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which is composed of the Ambassador and nine additional experts, three each appointed by the President, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Member of the USCIRF are responsible for reviewing the HRR and IRFR and for making policy recommendations to the Secretary and the President in relation to freedom of religion around the globe. The USCIRF also prepares an annual report.
The International Religious Freedom Act provides the President with a number of options to use in addressing “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC), those countries that have committed or allowed the commission of particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The President is responsible for identifying the source of the violation, consulting with the government in the offending country and other governments in order to coordinate an international response, and reporting to Congress. In addressing the CPCs, the President’s options include: demarches; private or public condemnation; the denial, delay or cancellation of scientific or cultural exchanges; the cancellation of a state visit; the withdrawal or limitation of humanitarian or security assistance; and the restriction of credit or loans from United States and multilateral organizations.