The content of President Donald Trump’s new executive order to promote religious freedom overseas was greatly overshadowed by the controversy that erupted at the time of its signing June 2 — but Church leaders in the Middle East and Nigeria contacted by the Register have enthusiastically welcomed the document.
The presidential directive, which President Trump signed at the White House after a controversial visit to the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., prioritizes international religious freedom in foreign policy and overseas government aid projects, budgets $50 million a year for programs that advance religious liberty worldwide, and requires relevant State Department officials to undergo training in international religious freedom.
The executive order also aims to develop recommendations to “prioritize the appropriate use of economic tools” to advance religious liberty “in countries of particular concern.”
Explaining the significance of the executive order, Kristina Arriaga, former vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, noted that religious freedom “can be a sensitive issue” and so is often “set aside by U.S. diplomats in bilateral and multilateral negotiations.”
The June 2 executive order “ends that practice,” she told the Register. “Agencies can no longer leave this fundamental human right outside international boardrooms….”
“We welcome the recent Executive Order on Advancing Religious Freedom,” said Chaldean Archbishop Bashir Warda of Erbil, Iraq — an area that has lost hundreds of thousands of Christians since the 2003 Iraq War and the 2014-2017 invasion by the Islamic State group. “Having directly experienced persecution, crimes against humanity and genocide because of our commitment to our faith, we are deeply grateful for the efforts of the administration to maintain an international focus on this issue.”
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan told the Register he welcomed the “courage” President Trump showed in signing the order after visiting the Shrine of St. Pope John Paul II and hoped “there will be an effective follow-up” in the form of defending and preserving civil rights, creating jobs, promoting development and helping foster a true religious dialogue that they “dream of.”
In a June 5 statement, the patriarch said he also firmly hoped “effective humanitarian programs” announced in the executive order would “insure the survival of my community, as well as Christian minorities, in order to stay rooted in their ancestral homeland.”
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, a region of extensive persecution in Nigeria, said the executive order put the persecution of Christians and other religions “on the front burner” — something he viewed as a “welcome development especially in the face of the crippling secularism that is trying to push religious identity to the sidelines….”
The above comes from a June 10 story by Edward Pentin in the National Catholic Register.