PRESS RELEASE, WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford’s (R-OK) Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) amendment (#1237) that promotes international religious freedom passed the Senate unanimously by a vote of 92 to 0 on May 18, 2015. The amendment states that the government will “take into account conditions relating to religious freedom of any party to negotiations for a trade agreement with the United States.”
In the lead-up to the vote, Sen. Lankford drew upon the research of Religious Freedom & Business Foundation president, Brian Grim, for the rationale supporting the connection between religious freedom and socio-economic development. Deseret News also made note of the contribution of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s research to the bi-partisan bill.
Grim, commenting on the outcome, said, “We are very pleased that the work of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has contributed to something that is not easy to achieve – the unanimous support of all parties on legislation.” Grim added that “because we do not take positions on political issues, this may be one reason that we can contribute to consensus on issues that are of common concern to all.”
Grim and Brian Walsh recently elaborated the business case for religious freedom in an op-ed aptly titled, Religious Freedom is Good for Business.
The Trade Promotion Authority amendment adds a provision to the overall negotiating objectives outlined in TPA, requiring the Administration to take religious freedom into account whenever negotiating trade agreements. If signed into law, this would be the first time in history that religious freedom considerations would be a requisite for international trade discussions with other countries. The original co-sponsors of the amendment are Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), who is also Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Senator David Vitter (R-LA).
During a floor speech on the amendment, Lankford said, “Our greatest export is our American value. The dignity of each person, hard work, innovation, and liberty. That’s what we send around the world. It has the greatest impact.”
“We believe every person should have protection of the government to live their faith, not the compulsion of government to practice any one faith or to be forced to reject all faith altogether. It’s one of the reasons that Americans are disturbed by the trend in our courts and military and public conversation. It’s not the task of government to purge religious conversation from public life. It is the task of government to protect the rights of every person to live their faith and to guard those who choose not to have any faith at all.”
In its 2015 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the State Department redesignate China as a Country of Particular Concern, and urged the same designation for Vietnam, because these are countries where severe violations of religious freedom are perpetuated or tolerated by their respective communist regimes.
China, relative to itself, has had an increase in religious freedom when compared to the days of the Cultural Revolution when all religion was strictly forbidden. This relative opening has been part of the secret of China’s economic miracle. However, recent laws and government restrictions are taking a sharper turn toward more restrictions. As Brian Grim argues in his latest Weekly Number blog, this could threaten the secret behind China’s sustainable economic growth: religious freedom and diversity. For the details, see the blog and new research article.