- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order that aims to prioritize religious freedom as a foreign policy initiative that includes requiring all civil service employees to undertake “international religious freedom training.”

The executive order sets aside $50 million annually for advancing international religious freedom by deterring attacks on sects and enhancing security at houses of worship.

“Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative,” the order reads. “Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the United States and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom.”

The State Department under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has increased attention on religious freedom. In addition, the White House has hosted victims of religious persecution, including members of the minority Rohingya and Yazidi faiths.

Tuesday’s order appears aimed at bolstering global incentive programs and restricting the issuance of visas under the 2012 Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which targets perpetrators of human rights abuse and corruption.

Most practically, the Advancing International Religious Freedom executive order requires State Department staff to undergo religious freedom training at least once every three years.

“The Secretary shall require all Department of State civil service employees in the Foreign Affairs Series to undertake training modeled on the international religious freedom training” described by the Foreign Service Act and amended in 2016, the order states.

Mr. Trump has put his stamp on efforts to boost religious freedom domestically and internationally since the beginning of his administration, often to the encouragement of his evangelical Christian base.

The State Department has hosted two religious liberty summits, drawing representatives from more than 100 nations. In addition, the administration expanded its prosecutorial focus on religious liberty violations by filing numerous legal defenses for churches, an Islamic center and an American Indian tribe.

The president initially was to sign the executive order Tuesday during a visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. Instead Mr. Trump and first lady Melania Trump held hands silently before a statue of the former pontiff and then returned to the White House to sign the document.

“This was fitting given St. John Paul II was a tireless advocate of religious liberty throughout his pontificate,” a spokesman for the shrine said in a written statement.

Mr. Trump’s visit to the shrine drew a rebuke from the region’s top Catholic prelate.

“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles,” Archbishop Gregory Wilton said in a statement referring to the federal government’s use of tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters from the grounds of an Episcopal church.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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