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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor > Religious Freedom > Fact Sheets
Fact Sheet
Office of International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC
April 16, 2001

History of the Office of International Religious Freedom

Religious freedom came to the forefront of American foreign policy in 1996, when then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced the creation of an Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. The Committee was influenced by the many faith-based organizations that began lobbying the U.S. Congress to pay greater attention to human rights during the 1980ís and 1990ís. The Committee, consisting of 20 American religious leaders and scholars, produced an interim report in 1998 and a final draft in 1999 that recommended a foreign policy agenda geared toward the promotion of religious freedom worldwide.

At the same time, the U.S. Congress, faith-based nongovernmental organizations, and the Department of State began discussing ways to integrate religious freedom initiatives into U.S. foreign policy. The product of these debates was the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

The International Religious Freedom Act mandated the establishment of an Office of International Religious Freedom within the Department of State, headed by an Ambassador-at-Large. The Ambassador acts as the President and Secretary of State's principal advisor in matters concerning religious freedom abroad. In May 1999, Robert A. Seiple was sworn in as the first Ambassador-at-Large. He immediately began promoting worldwide religious freedom as a core tenet of U.S. human rights policy. Ambassador Seiple and his staff visited 26 countries during his tenure.

It is the Office's mandate to monitor religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommend and implement policies in respective regions or countries, and develop programs to promote religious freedom.

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