President Barack Obama has given his signature to International Freedom Act on December 16 in a move which will strengthen the ability of United States to take action against countries which persecute or oppress people for religious beliefs held by them. The law is an update of an existing 18 year old law dedicated to religious freedom. The step forward in this case is that Congress now protects rights of those people who are not religious at all. Both Democrats and Republicans supported the move. It was unanimously passed by the Senate and House sans any controversy.
Freedom of conscience and thought
The new law states that there will complete freedom of thought, religion and conscience. The amended legislation will protect both theistic and non-theistic beliefs. It will protect the right not to practice or profess any kind of religion. The law encompasses international programs. The passage of the law was applauded by humanists. They said anyone who is sensitive about religious freedom will be appalled by violence perpetrated by religious people against atheists in countries like Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh. It is to be mentioned that the shaping of American foreign policy so that human rights are protected find common ground for diverse groups like Christian conservatives and atheists. Matthew Bulger of American Humanist Association said that it is imperative that religious freedom of all individuals, both non-theists and theists, constitutes and American value which must be protected at all costs.
Improvement to an older act
This new law gives sinews to the older 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. This legislation empowers State Department to identify and then denounce those regimes which violate people’s rights to freely worship. This update permits the United States Government to designate individuals, terrorist groups or any non-state actors and create an exhaustive list of the religious prisoners. The US will give training in international religious freedom for all the foreign service officers.
Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey was lead sponsor in House. In a telephone interview, he said that the new additions are a good enhancement and strengthening of original law. He said that the new law must be implemented in an aggressive manner and could make religious freedon an important pivot of American foreign policy. Incidentally Smith was visiting Iraq and met many Christians who have fled Islamic State terrorists. According to Smith, the reference to non-theists was not controversial at all, and accepted among evangelical Christian Congress members.