Bill amending International Religious Freedom Act passes U.S. House Foreign Affairs committtee

The Foreign Affairs committee of the United States House of Representatives has, on Wednesday, unanimously adopted a bill that would improve the country's ability to advance global religious freedom. 

Egyptian Christians hold placards during a protest against the killing of Egyptian Coptic Christians by militants of the Islamic State in Libya, in Cairo February 16, 2015. | REUTERS / Mohamed Abd El Ghany

House Resolution 1150, titled the "Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2015," aims to amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Should it become law, the U.S. would be able to improve its efforts in advancing religious freedom on an international scale by means of "stronger and more flexible political responses to religious freedom violations and violent extremism worldwide," as well as through better diplomacy, counterterrorism, training, and foreign assistance efforts.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario (L) walks with U.S. Representative Chris Smith upon arrival at the Department of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Pasay city, metro Manila November 25, 2013. | REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

"The bill we passed almost 18 years ago needs to be updated to match the challenges of the 21st century," said U.S. representative Chris Smith, who authored H.R. 1150. "The world is experiencing an unprecedented crisis of international religious freedom, a crisis that continues to create millions of victims; a crisis that undermines liberty, prosperity and peace; a crisis that poses a direct challenge to the U.S. interests in the Middle East, Russia, China and sub-Saharan Africa."

Smith also said that there is a need for "a robust religious freedom diplomacy," in order for the country to advance its interest in economic development, security, and stability. He also said that more religious freedom results to less terrorism but more political stability, freedom of speech, economic freedom, and women empowerment.

Among the numerous items included in the bill are the establishment of a Commission on International Religious Freedom, promotion of religious freedom, presidential action in response to violations, and matters on refugees and asylum.

According to Smith's website, the full House of Representatives is expected to consider H.R. 1150 in the next few weeks. The bill has gained the support of religious groups, ethnic minority representatives, and non-government organizations.