April 29, 2022, Washington, D.C. – The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) applauds the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of the Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act (H.R. 496).
“This splendid action by the U.S. House of Representatives addresses the deep connection between the Kremlin’s hatred of religious freedom and its vicious assault on Ukraine,” said RFI President Tom Farr. “Moreover, it reaffirms the International Religious Freedom Act’s recognition that the First Freedom is indeed the inalienable right of every human being, and is essential to every society. The Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act should serve as a model for future legislation intent on defending countries where armed aggression by bad actors like Moscow and Tehran threatens religious freedom.”
“The House unanimously passed this bipartisan bill in 2020, and rightfully passed it with nearly unanimous support again this week,” said Nathaniel Hurd, RFI’s North America Action Team Director. “Now is the time for the Senate finally to pass it. The United States must act decisively against Kremlin officials for their violent attacks on Ukrainians’ religious freedom and their other heinous offenses. Accountability for such brutality is fundamental.”
RFI has supported the bipartisan Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act since its introduction in December 2019 and reintroduction in January 2021 and has called for it to be part of the U.S. response to the Kremlin’s latest attack on Ukraine. RFI’s Nathaniel Hurd drafted the House version of the legislation when he served as a senior policy advisor to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the U.S. Helsinki Commission).
The Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act would require the President of the United States to consider the Russian Government’s “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” in the parts of Ukraine it occupies or otherwise controls when determining whether to designate Russia as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” include “torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; prolonged detention without charges; causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.”
IRFA authorizes the President to consider only such violations that a foreign government has “engaged in or tolerated” within its own country’s borders. The new law would require the President to hold the Kremlin accountable for its CPC-level violations in Ukraine. The Russian Government invaded and illegally occupied the Crimea region of Ukraine in February 2014. It expanded that invasion in February 2022 and continues it to the present. Since April 2014, the Kremlin has also controlled parts of Ukraine’s Donbas region in the east through a variety of illegal, armed groups. IRFA requires the President to take one or more of 15 listed actions, or commensurate action, against CPC countries.
The Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act also states that “It is the policy of the United States…to never recognize the illegal, attempted annexation of Crimea by the Government of Russia or the separation through the use of military force or recognition of independence of any portion of Ukrainian territory.” The Act additionally declares that it is U.S. policy to apply IRFA visa sanctions to Russian government officials responsible for CPC-level violations in Ukraine.
The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.