Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleTo amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to improve the ability of the United States to advance religious freedom globally through enhanced diplomacy, training, counterterrorism, and foreign assistance efforts, and through stronger and more flexible political responses to religious freedom violations and violent extremism worldwide, and for other purposes.
Enacted bythe 114th United States Congress
EffectiveDecember 16, 2016
Public law114-281
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 1150 by Chris Smith on February 27, 2015
  • Committee consideration by House - Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Oversight and Government Reform; Senate - Foreign Relations
  • Passed the House of Representatives on May 16, 2016 
  • Passed the Senate on December 10, 2016 
  • Signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 16, 2016

The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (H.R. 1150, Pub.L. 114–281 (text) (pdf)) "amends the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) to state in the congressional findings that the freedom of thought and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs as well as the right not to profess or practice any religion". The bill was named after Frank Wolf, a Republican Congressman for Virginia and staunch supporter of religious freedom, who introduced the "Freedom from Religious Persecution Act of 1997", which served as a catalyst for religious freedom legislation in the 1990s. The original International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 was introduced by Senator Don Nickles on March 26, 1998, and was passed by the Senate on October 8, 1998, then passed without conference by the House on October 10, 1998. IRFA was passed as an amendment in the nature of a substitute (in its entirety, including the title) to H.R. 2431, the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act of 1997, a bill which had been introduced by Frank Wolf and Arlen Specter in May of 1997, but which never passed the Senate.

While both religious and non-religious groups have signaled approval for the 2016 amendment,[1] it has received particular attention for specifically protecting non-theists and those who claim no religion at all.[2] The Frank Wolf Act does not materially change the 1998 IRFA legislation, which already contained the authority to enact the 2016 provisions, but it spells out certain provisions in greater detail and specificity.


The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 was first introduced on March 26, 1998 as S.1868 by Senator Don Nickles (R-OK), who was Majority Whip at the time. It was quickly cosponsored by other Senators, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jesse Helms. IRFA provided a far-reaching policy alternative to a previous bill, the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, which Frank Wolf and Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced on May 27, 1997 as H.R. 1685/S.772.[3] Frank Wolf re-introduced FRPA as H.R. 2431 on September 9, 1997.[4] H.R.2431 passed the House on May 14, 1998 after multiple revisions, but was never taken up in the Senate. IRFA, however, passed the Senate on October 08, 1998 by a voice vote of 98-0. As there was no time for a conference before the end of the 105th Congress, the Senate renumbered and voted on IRFA as S.Amdt.3789 in the nature of a substitute, so that the House could vote directly on the Senate bill.[5] On October 10, 1998, the House then passed IRFA in its entirety as a substitute amendment to H.R.2431, including the title of "International Religious Freedom Act."

New legislation[edit]

The amended Act requires the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom to report directly to the Secretary of State. This reporting structure was implicit in IRFA (1998) but clarified by the 2016 Amendment as not every Secretary of State had respected this arrangement. It establishes an "entities of particular concern" which is a companion to the "countries of particular concern" classification for non-government actors, such as the Islamic State (IS), the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram, and Houthis. The amended act institutes a "designated persons list" for individuals who violate religious freedom and authorizes the president to issue sanctions against those who participate in persecution.[6] Both of these provisions were already contained in the IRFA legislation (Section 402(2)) but are further detailed in the Wolf Amendment.


  1. ^ Emery, David. "Obama Signs Law Protecting Atheists from Religious Persecution". Retrieved January 2, 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Winston, Kimberly. "New International Religious Freedom Act a first for atheists". Religion News Service. Retrieved January 2, 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Wolf, Frank R. (October 8, 1997). "H.R.1685 - 105th Congress (1997-1998): Freedom From Religious Persecution Act of 1997".
  4. ^ Wolf, Frank R. (October 27, 1998). "Text - H.R.2431 - 105th Congress (1997-1998): International Religious Freedom Act of 1998".
  5. ^ Nickles, Don (October 8, 1998). "S.Amdt.3789 to H.R.2431 - 105th Congress (1997-1998)".
  6. ^ Strode, Tom (December 16, 2016). "Congrats, Frank Wolf: Obama Approves Expansion of International Religious Freedom Act". Christianity Today. Carol Stream, Illinois: Christianity Today International. Baptist News Global. Retrieved January 10, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)