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Learn more about the Office of International Religious Freedom

Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook

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


President Obama: Religious Freedom Day, 2011

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Our Nation was founded on a shared commitment to the values of justice, freedom, and equality. On Religious Freedom Day, we commemorate Virginia’s 1786 Statute for Religious Freedom, in which Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.” The fundamental principle of religious freedom — guarded by our Founders and enshrined in our Constitution’s First Amendment — continues to protect rich faiths flourishing within our borders.

The writ of the Founding Fathers has upheld the ability of Americans to worship and practice religion as they choose, including the right to believe in no religion at all. However, these liberties are not self-sustaining, and require a stalwart commitment by each generation to preserve and apply them. Throughout our Nation’s history, our founding ideal of religious freedom has served as an example to the world. Though our Nation has sometimes fallen short of the weighty task of ensuring freedom of religious expression and practice, we have remained a Nation in which people of different faiths coexist with mutual respect and equality under the law. America’s unshakeable commitment to religious freedom binds us together as a people, and the strength of our values underpins a country that is tolerant, just, and strong.

My Administration continues to defend the cause of religious freedom in the United States and around the world. At home, we vigorously protect the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs. Across the globe, we also seek to uphold this human right and to foster tolerance and peace with those whose beliefs differ from our own. We bear witness to those who are persecuted or attacked because of their faith. We condemn the attacks made in recent months against Christians in Iraq and Egypt, along with attacks against people of all backgrounds and beliefs. The United States stands with those who advocate for free religious expression and works to protect the rights of all people to follow their conscience, free from persecution and discrimination.
On Religious Freedom Day, let us reflect on the principle of religious freedom that has guided our Nation forward, and recommit to upholding this universal human right both at home and around the world.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 16, 2011, as Religious Freedom Day. I call on all Americans to commemorate this day with events and activities that teach us about this critical foundation of our Nation’s liberty, and to show us how we can protect it for future generations here and around the world.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fourteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.



International Religious Freedom Act

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.


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