As he signed H.R. 2431, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), into law, President Clinton declared his administration was “committed to promoting religious freedom worldwide,” and making religious freedom “a central element of U.S. foreign policy.” 1 Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka (D-HI) described the legislation as “one of the most important pieces in foreign relations” and as a “necessary step to ensure that religious persecution will not be tolerated in [the United States’] conduct of foreign policy.” 2 Jesse Helms, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated the “senseless injustice of religious persecution abroad” had “stirred the hearts and souls of the folks back home in churches and synagogues” and that “Americans were eager to learn what their government is doing to ease the suffering of their brothers and sisters overseas.” 3 According to President Clinton, the act served “to promote the religious freedom of people of all backgrounds, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, or any other faith” and the freedom of religion was “perhaps one of the most precious of all American liberties.” 4 The passage of the IRFA made the United States one of the few countries in the world to promote religious freedom as an explicit foreign policy goal. In the 25 years that followed the landmark Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, the only other state to announce the advancement of international religious freedom as a significant foreign policy objective was the Vatican city-state. The passage of this legislation led to the United States becoming the model promoter of religious freedom across the globe.
Chase, Margaret, "From Madisonian Secularism to a Christian Government: The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998" (2017). Undergraduate Student Research Awards. 36.