International Religious Freedom


The Reform Movement has been an outspoken and steadfast advocate for people around the globe who suffer torture, slavery, starvation, and death because of their religious identity. Having been the victims of religious persecution over the centuries, Jews know what happens when people stand silently by in the face of discrimination and oppression of others. As we seek to live our lives conscious of being created in God's image, we must work to ensure that no one is discriminated based on his or her religious beliefs.

In 1998, President Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act into law. This landmark piece of legislation included the following:

  • It addresses all forms of religious persecution recognized by the international community. The law covers both gross violations of human rights and the more subtle and prevalent forms of persecution, such as church burning, job discrimination, stifling of religious expression, and the inability to hold services. This broader definition for religious persecution is consistent with international human rights standards.
  • It allows a flexible, case-by-case response on the part of the Administration since one response is not appropriate in all circumstances. The Administration must choose from a broad menu of options ranging from private diplomatic protest to economic sanctions consistent with the level of persecution.
  • It requires consultation with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), churches, and synagogues prior to any action to ensure that the U.S. response, if any, will help, not harm, the religious minority on the ground.
  • It improves reporting of religious persecution and provides better training and sensitivity to the issue in U.S. foreign policy structures.
  • It does not create a "hierarchy of human rights" in which persecution on the basis of religion has a higher priority than political or cultural persecution such that victims are not granted asylum to the detriment of other refugee groups.
  • It does not provide automatic sanctions against countries listed in the report of persecuting countries, but rather a menu of options, ranging from a call or a letter to withdrawal of military or economic aid.

The International Religious Freedom Act also created a 10-member independent governmental commission entitled the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The group is charged with advising the President and Congress on strengthening religious freedom and combating religious persecution worldwide. This body is appointed by both Democratic and Republican Leadership, as well as from the Legislative and Executive Branch. As part of the its mandate, the Commission must produce a report on religious persecution following the State Department's release of its annual human rights report and recommend policy to address issues of international religious persecution. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center, was unanimously elected to be the Commission's first Chairman. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is the current chairman.

The 2019 International Religious Freedom Annual Report named 10 "countries of particular concern”: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. An additional 6 nations- Central African Republic, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam- have been labeled as countries that “meet the CPC standard and should be so designated.”

Jewish Values

Our tradition teaches us that: "God said to Moses: Is there anyone whom I do not respect? Whether it be Israelite or Gentile, man or woman, slave or handmaid, whoever does a good deed, shall find the reward at its side" (Midrash Yalku Lekh Leka 76). God is sending us a message here and that message is clear — God will judge us based on our deeds, not our religious beliefs. As we seek to live our lives conscious of being created in God's image, we must work to ensure that no one is discriminated based on his or her religious beliefs.

The Jewish community has been the quintessential victims of religious persecution, and of all people, we understand the duress of this persecution and will devote ourselves to any measures designed to lessen its impact. It is our duty and obligation to prevent this persecution in the future.

Reform Judaism's Resolutions on International Religious Freedom

Learn more about the position of the Reform Movement on these key issues, and read the formal resolutions by URJ and CCAR.

View URJ Resolutions 

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