Trump signs order directing State Dept., USAID to take action on global religious freedom

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President Trump on Tuesday quietly signed an executive order directing the State Department to take more concrete action in countries identified as violating religious freedoms, assigning $50 million to support such efforts.

The executive order, called “Advancing International Religious Freedom,” tasks the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to fund programs that promote and protect religious freedoms abroad.

The order also calls for diplomats to increase efforts raising concerns with partner countries over religious discrimination. The president did not hold a public ceremony for the signing nor make public remarks about the implementation of the order.

The signing occurred after the president and first lady visited the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday afternoon, and amid tense protests occurring in the capital and across the country for over a week in response to the video-taped killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer in Minnesota.

The day before, the president took a photo outside St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the White House, but drew intense criticism over federal law enforcement’s use of rubber bullets and physical force to disperse peaceful protesters for Trump’s short walk to the church.

The president’s order follows the publication in April of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) annual report, which documents the state of religious freedoms around the world. The group is an independent, bipartisan U.S. government advisory board that makes policy recommendations based on their findings.

In the 2020 annual report, USCIRF for the first time recommended India be designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” for “a sharp downward turn” in religious freedom in 2019, particularly against Muslims, according to the report.

A Country of Particular Concern, or CPC, designation is considered the most serious category of documenting religious freedom violations and infringement.

For 2020, USCIRF recommended new CPC designation for Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam. It called for renewing CPC status for Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

A lesser category, called the “Special Watch List,” was attributed to Cuba, Nicaragua, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Turkey.

The executive order also came on the same day that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) prepared the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 to be sent to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

The legislation imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses against the minority Uighur Muslim population in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and requires various reports on the issue.

Tags D.C. Donald Trump George Floyd Mike Pompeo Nancy Pelosi Religion religious freedom Special Watch List St. John's Episcopal Church State Department U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom USAID USCIRF
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