While President Biden has now taken office, and we are focused on working to ensure his Administration protects religious freedom across the globe, it is important to understand the gains we’ve made in the last four years – what we must build upon in our advocacy for the persecuted Church.
On Friday, January 16, 2021, President Trump signed a proclamation recognizing January 16th as Religious Freedom Day. In the proclamation, President Trump stated:
On Religious Freedom Day, we honor the vision of our Founding Fathers for a Nation made strong and righteous by a people free to exercise their faith and follow their conscience. As Americans united in unparalleled freedom, we recommit to safeguarding and preserving religious freedom across our land and around the world.
As the President also stated, “[o]ver the past 4 years, [this] Administration has worked tirelessly to honor the vision of our Founders and defend our proud history of religious liberty.” During the past four years, the ACLJ has reported on and even worked with the Trump Administration in achieving some of those accomplishments.
For instance, the Trump Administration worked closely with the ACLJ in obtaining the freedom of our client, Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was finally freed in 2018 after being wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey for two years. Similarly, with help from the Trump Administration, in May 2020, the ACLJ obtained the release of our client, Pastor Bryan Nerren, who was wrongfully detained in India for over seven months.
In September 2019, the ACLJ was present when President Trump hosted a religious freedom event at the United Nations in New York during which he stated, “As president, protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities and always has been.” He continued, “The United States calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution.”
During that same event, President Trump and Vice President Pence both criticized China’s treatment of religious minorities, which is tantamount to religious persecution and an all-out attack on religious liberty. In further recognition of China’s problematic targeting and persecution of religious minorities, on January 19, 2021, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decried China’s treatment of the Uyghurs (a minority Muslim people group) , including forced abortions, officially labeling it “genocide.”
In 2018, the Trump Administration launched the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom which “[brought] together leaders from around the world to discuss the challenges facing religious freedom, identify means to address religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, and promote greater respect and preservation of religious liberty for all.” The Administration hosted the event again in 2019 before encouraging other countries to host the event in the future. As such, Poland hosted the event in 2020.
Recently, Secretary Pompeo announced the designation of Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. We here at the ACLJ, who have long been advocating for the protection of Nigerian Christians and have reported on numerous, continued, and almost daily horrific attacks carried out against Christians in Nigeria, were pleased with the Administration’s designation.
During the last four years, the Trump Administration also sought to further protect religious freedom through Executive orders that required rules to be enacted to ensure equal protection for religious organizations and faith-based businesses, and made the enforcement of religious liberty an integral part of U.S. foreign policies and U.S. State Department programs.
While we are grateful to the Trump Administration for the strides it made in protecting religious freedom both here and abroad, with a new Administration taking office, we are aware that our fight to protect one of our most basic human rights is ever ongoing. We will continue our daily fight to ensure that our nation’s leaders respect and continue to protect all people’s rights to worship freely.
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