Evangelist Franklin Graham has applauded President Barack Obama for approving the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, a bill that should strengthen the United States' effort to combat persecution of Christians around the world.
According to Religion News Service, the bill, HR 1150, is named after a Christian Congressman who has advocated for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities globally. Wolf, who represented Virginia's 10th Congressional district since 1981, retired last year.
"As a world leader for freedom and the protection of basic human rights, the United States should take every opportunity to advocate for people to think, believe, and act according to their religious belief, whether they belong to a minority or majority religion," Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, who co-sponsored the bill said in a statement.
The Christian Post reports that the new bill updates the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which established a religious freedom office in the State Department and an independent watchdog panel, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
The legislation, backed by Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders, and Republicans and Democrats, includes provisions aimed at strengthening key positions within the federal government to make religious freedom a top priority, according to CP. It also creates a list of overseas religious prisoners, mandates religious liberty training for all foreign service officers, and establishes a minimum number of full-time staff members in the State Department's international religious freedom office.
In a Facebook post shared on Wednesday, Graham, the leader of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, praised the President for his support of the bill.
"Thank you to President Barack Obama," he wrote. "This is a strong step in support of religious freedom and strengthens the United States' effort to combat the persecution of Christians and other faith minorities around the world."
Graham quoted Alexandra Tompson, legal analyst at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, who recently said that Christians "are the most persecuted group on the planet" and are regularly exposed to "intolerance and discrimination".
"That is a great tragedy we hope to bring greater attention to by holding the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, DC, in May," Graham concluded.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also praised the passing of the legislation, which he referred to as "a vital step toward protecting conscience freedom for millions of the world's most vulnerable, most oppressed people."
"The passage of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act shows a strong coalition working together for the cause of international religious freedom," he said. "The bipartisan nature of this passage shows us that religious freedom does not have to be a partisan issue but is rooted in our deepest commitments as Americans, and I hope that persecuted religious minorities around the globe will see that they have not been forgotten. While the passage of this act by no means solves the religious freedom crisis around the world, it is a step in the right direction."
The Family Research Council also praised the passing of the bill as a "nice Christmas gift" and expressed hopes the legislation will be "acted upon and fully implemented".