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President Trump issues Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom amid tear gas controversy

President Donald Trump last week issued an executive order to promote religious freedom around the world, calling it a “moral and national security imperative.” The order calls on the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to make international religious freedom a priority in implementing foreign policy and foreign assistance programs.

The order requires the State Department to budget no less than $50 million per year on programs designed to advance religious freedom, including protecting groups and individuals subject to religious persecution:

Such programs shall include those intended to anticipate, prevent, and respond to attacks against individuals and groups on the basis of their religion, including programs designed to help ensure that such groups can persevere as distinct communities; to promote accountability for the perpetrators of such attacks; to ensure equal rights and legal protections for individuals and groups regardless of belief; to improve the safety and security of houses of worship and public spaces for all faiths; and to protect and preserve the cultural heritages of religious communities.

According to Deseret News reporter Kelsey Dallas, the announcement was intended to accompany President Trump’s visit to a shrine in D.C. honoring Pope John Paul II. If like me you hadn’t heard of that presidential visit, that’s probably because the news that day was dominated by another presidential trip, standing in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. with a Bible after the administration cleared a path using tear gas.

Among those displeased, according to Dallas’ report, was the Washington Archbishop:

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“Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings,” said Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory in a statement provided to The Washington Post. “He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate” protesters.

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The executive order also requires certain civil service employees to undergo training, at least once every three years, in international religious freedom issues. Relevant agency heads are given 90 days to submit training plans. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State and the USAID administrator have 180 days to develop a plan implementing the order.

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