Reflections on the Landmark International Religious Freedom Act


Date:                     December 11, 2018


21Wilberforce is empowering a global movement to advance religious freedom as a universal right.
December 11, 2018

Reflections on the Landmark International Religious Freedom Act

As our early Christmas gift to you, it is a privilege to introduce The 20th Anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act: A Retrospective. This 80-page publication, produced by 21Wilberforce with the generous support of the Religion News Foundation, commemorates and captures the achievements of the landmark IRF Act of 1998. Attached below is a link to the PDF version of the publication.

This retrospective celebrates faith-based activism while serving as a primer for students of all ages interested in social justice. It describes how a cognitive shift was sparked these last two decades, with international religious freedom becoming a recognized human right in foreign affairs and among the world’s nations. Most importantly, it pays tribute to all unnamed believers and advocates, past and present, who continue to stand peacefully on the frontlines of faith, despite overwhelming pressure.

Owning this history — both the genesis and the progress — empowers next steps. This starts by recognizing that the IRF Movement is among the great human rights efforts of the last two decades, broadening protections throughout the world. From discrimination to genocide, the IRF Movement continues to challenge the injustice of religious persecution globally. It is predicated on protecting all minority faiths that suffer in hostile places anywhere in the world.

In America, “international human rights” is among the few remaining bastions of bipartisan activism. This retrospective recognizes that major impact was possible because IRF advocates were deliberately bipartisan — a sober reminder that no worthy cause is ever won in a corner. The lessons collected and shared in the retrospective also invite future IRF advocates across the spectrum to continue the art of political transcendence, where great things can be accomplished for freedom.

A core genius of the IRF Movement was the empowerment of faith-based networks to influence major justice reforms, remarkably in this case, for foreign policy. In the early 1900s, faith-based movements helped produce the great social reforms of that era, from ending child labor to reforming schools, hospitals, housing, and more. Yet such activism had waned in the latter part of the century. The IRF Movement changed that trajectory, reigniting powerful faith-based advocacy for social justice — in this case, for the religiously persecuted.

21Wilberforce believes the IRF Movement is poised for major expansion and impacts yet again, spurred in part by the inspired leadership of the new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, who is championing bold thinking and fresh approaches. These efforts are magnified by re-energized citizen activism, like that of the IRF Roundtable as it expands coalition-building at home and abroad.

The 20th anniversary retrospective is a reminder to support those who suffer for their faith. It is an invitation to learn more, to lean in with organizations promoting this fundamental right, to adopt religious prisoners, to support defenders on the frontlines of faith. Towards this end, very soon, 21Wilberforce will introduce a web-based platform to empower exactly these types of practical actions for people of faith to defend people of faith internationally.

The IRF Movement is among the great human rights efforts of the last two decades

Consider the potential impact on billions of lives worldwide — the suffering waiting to be addressed and the freedom waiting to be birthed. The invitation is addressed to you — as people of faith — to step in and ride this wave.

It is an exciting time to witness the re-budding of the IRF Movement, and we look forward to what the next 20 years will bring as we offer this retrospective.

Sharon Payt

Take Action:

1. Read and explore The 20th Anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act: A Retrospective

2. Visit the updated 21Wilberforce website

3. Read stories of endurance and encouragement among persecuted religious minorities

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