By Erin Rodewald // December 13, 2018
In the fall of 1998, members of Congress made a deliberate and unanimous choice to stand as beacons for the most fundamental of all human rights — freedom of religion or belief. Passage of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) came after months of debate and resulted in a law that has driven considerable human rights initiatives around the world for the past two decades while also codifying the first freedom as a top priority within U.S. foreign policy.
In this 20th anniversary year, human rights organization 21Wilberforce embarked on a legacy project that would commemorate and capture the achievements of this landmark legislation. The result is The 20th Anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act: A Retrospective, introduced this week at an event at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.
For the first time, valuable IRFA source documents, personal recollections, and scholarly materials from the past 20 years have been collected and thoughtfully archived in a singular place with a succinct timeline. Included are candid conversations and observations culled from more than 55 interviews with prominent international religious freedom stakeholders, from elected officials and foreign policy experts to human rights advocates and academics.
The 80-page print publication and its companion interactive PDF consolidate critical research and literature, including key legislation, reports, journal articles, and books. Access to the PDF version is available here.
Although a retrospective, this project also looks to the future. Speaking at the launch event, Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and a former Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, noted, “We only know where we need to go if we know where we came from. We are reminded of the heroic story of how we got to where we are today. But this Retrospective is also full of challenge…it points the way to where we need to go from here.”
The publication considers the present landscape, challenges and opportunities for continued advances in international religious freedom. While honoring the rich history of the IRFA movement, the publication aims to inspire a renewed commitment to combat religious persecution and discrimination and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.
“When people are free to seek truth for themselves directly,” concluded Swett, “They become empowered to create societies that protect the conscience rights of all people.” The newly released IRFA anniversary retrospective captures the story of the IRF Act but also offers a fresh path for engagement for communities of faith and a new generation.