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International Religious Freedom: Findings and Policy
This law was enacted in 1998 as Public Law 105-292 and has been sunsequently amended. It is codified in Chapter 73 of Title 22 of the U.S. Code.



See also the CENTRAL guide to Security, Sanctions, and Compliance.


This page reproduces the findings and statement of policy. See also the other sections of the law:




§6401. Findings; policy

(a) Findings

Congress makes the following findings:

(1) The right to freedom of religion undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States. Many of our Nation's founders fled religious persecution abroad, cherishing in their hearts and minds the ideal of religious freedom. They established in law, as a fundamental right and as a pillar of our Nation, the right to freedom of religion. From its birth to this day, the United States has prized this legacy of religious freedom and honored this heritage by standing for religious freedom and offering refuge to those suffering religious persecution.

(2) Freedom of religious belief and practice is a universal human right and fundamental freedom articulated in numerous international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Helsinki Accords, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, the United Nations Charter, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

(3) Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”. Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching”. Governments have the responsibility to protect the fundamental rights of their citizens and to pursue justice for all. Religious freedom is a fundamental right of every individual, regardless of race, sex, country, creed, or nationality, and should never be arbitrarily abridged by any government.

(4) The right to freedom of religion is under renewed and, in some cases, increasing assault in many countries around the world. More than one-half of the world's population lives under regimes that severely restrict or prohibit the freedom of their citizens to study, believe, observe, and freely practice the religious faith of their choice. Religious believers and communities suffer both government-sponsored and government-tolerated violations of their rights to religious freedom. Among the many forms of such violations are state-sponsored slander campaigns, confiscations of property, surveillance by security police, including by special divisions of “religious police”, severe prohibitions against construction and repair of places of worship, denial of the right to assemble and relegation of religious communities to illegal status through arbitrary registration laws, prohibitions against the pursuit of education or public office, and prohibitions against publishing, distributing, or possessing religious literature and materials.

(5) Even more abhorrent, religious believers in many countries face such severe and violent forms of religious persecution as detention, torture, beatings, forced marriage, rape, imprisonment, enslavement, mass resettlement, and death merely for the peaceful belief in, change of or practice of their faith. In many countries, religious believers are forced to meet secretly, and religious leaders are targeted by national security forces and hostile mobs.

(6) Though not confined to a particular region or regime, religious persecution is often particularly widespread, systematic, and heinous under totalitarian governments and in countries with militant, politicized religious majorities.

(7) Congress has recognized and denounced acts of religious persecution through the adoption of the following resolutions:

(A) House Resolution 515 of the One Hundred Fourth Congress, expressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to the persecution of Christians worldwide.

(B) Senate Concurrent Resolution 71 of the One Hundred Fourth Congress, expressing the sense of the Senate regarding persecution of Christians worldwide.

(C) House Concurrent Resolution 102 of the One Hundred Fourth Congress, expressing the sense of the House of Representatives concerning the emancipation of the Iranian Baha'i community.

(b) Policy

It shall be the policy of the United States, as follows:

(1) To condemn violations of religious freedom, and to promote, and to assist other governments in the promotion of, the fundamental right to freedom of religion.

(2) To seek to channel United States security and development assistance to governments other than those found to be engaged in gross violations of the right to freedom of religion, as set forth in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 [22 U.S.C. 2151 et seq.], in the International Financial Institutions Act of 1977, and in other formulations of United States human rights policy.

(3) To be vigorous and flexible, reflecting both the unwavering commitment of the United States to religious freedom and the desire of the United States for the most effective and principled response, in light of the range of violations of religious freedom by a variety of persecuting regimes, and the status of the relations of the United States with different nations.

(4) To work with foreign governments that affirm and protect religious freedom, in order to develop multilateral documents and initiatives to combat violations of religious freedom and promote the right to religious freedom abroad.

(5) Standing for liberty and standing with the persecuted, to use and implement appropriate tools in the United States foreign policy apparatus, including diplomatic, political, commercial, charitable, educational, and cultural channels, to promote respect for religious freedom by all governments and peoples.

§6402. Definitions

In this chapter:

(1) Ambassador at Large

The term “Ambassador at Large” means the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom appointed under section 6411(b) of this title.

(2) Annual Report

The term “Annual Report” means the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom described in section 6412(b) of this title.

(3) Appropriate congressional committees

The term “appropriate congressional committees” means—

(A) the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives; and

(B) in the case of any determination made with respect to the taking of President action under paragraphs (9) through (15) of section 6445(a) of this title, the term includes the committees described in subparagraph (A) and, where appropriate, the Committee on Banking and Financial Services of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate.

(4) Commensurate action

The term “commensurate action” means action taken by the President under section 6445(b) of this title.

(5) Commission

The term “Commission” means the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom established in section 6431(a) of this title.

(6) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

The term “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” means the annual reports required to be submitted by the Department of State to Congress under sections 2151n(d) and 2304(b) of this title.

(7) Executive Summary

The term “Executive Summary” means the Executive Summary to the Annual Report, as described in section 6412(b)(1)(F) of this title.

(8) Government or foreign government

The term “government” or “foreign government” includes any agency or instrumentality of the government.

(9) Human Rights Reports

The term “Human Rights Reports” means all reports submitted by the Department of State to Congress under sections 2151n and 2304 of this title.

(10) Office

The term “Office” means the Office on International Religious Freedom established in section 6411(a) of this title.

(11) Particularly severe violations of religious freedom

The term “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” means systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as—

(A) torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;

(B) prolonged detention without charges;

(C) causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or

(D) other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.

(12) Special Adviser

The term “Special Adviser” means the Special Adviser to the President on International Religious Freedom described in section 402(i) of title 50.

(13) Violations of religious freedom

The term “violations of religious freedom” means violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion and religious belief and practice, as set forth in the international instruments referred to in section 6401(a)(2) of this title and as described in section 6401(a)(3) of this title, including violations such as—

(A) arbitrary prohibitions on, restrictions of, or punishment for—

(i) assembling for peaceful religious activities such as worship, preaching, and prayer, including arbitrary registration requirements;

(ii) speaking freely about one's religious beliefs;

(iii) changing one's religious beliefs and affiliation;

(iv) possession and distribution of religious literature, including Bibles; or

(v) raising one's children in the religious teachings and practices of one's choice; or

(B) any of the following acts if committed on account of an individual's religious belief or practice: detention, interrogation, imposition of an onerous financial penalty, forced labor, forced mass resettlement, imprisonment, forced religious conversion, beating, torture, mutilation, rape, enslavement, murder, and execution.