Trump Considers America's Will to Give

November 13, 2019

Most of us wouldn't donate to an unethical group, so why should the U.S.? That's the idea behind a new policy being hatched in the Trump administration, where officials are mapping out a way to incentivize international religious liberty. If countries want humanitarian aid, shouldn't they at least prove that they're capable of recognizing one of mankind's most fundamental rights? This president thinks so.

As far as proposals go, it's a brilliant one. America shouldn't be giving billions of dollars to regimes that are turning around and oppressing their own people. And according to two White House sources, that's the motivation behind an effort to prioritize funding for nations that promote religious tolerance. Although the concept is still in its early stages, President Trump is considering an executive order that would withhold dollars from nations that are persecuting their own people. "Its mere consideration," Politico points out, "shows how much the White House prioritizes religious freedom."

As if Americans needed more proof! The Trump administration has been the biggest ally of our First Freedom in the history of this country. Now, by tying dollars to demonstrations of sincerity, the president might finally have found the leverage he needs to convince more leaders to protect the vulnerable. Former Congressman Frank Wolf, who authored the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that encouraged America to make this fundamental right a priority in our foreign policy, couldn't be more pleased. "I think what the administration is doing is very, very positive," he told listeners on Tuesday's "Washington Watch."

"A lot of members [of Congress] care deeply about this. They care about this religious minority here. Or this group over there. [And this] would give them leverage... They would be able to say, 'You know, Mr. Ambassador of Country X, if don't release or stop persecuting the Hindu, or stop doing this to the Buddhists, for instance, in Nepal... you can lose your foreign aid... That helps the embassies, helps the religious minorities, helps the [U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), helps the needy, helps every member of Congress, Democratic member, Republican member. Doesn't matter. I mean, they all have their own group that they want to help. It's a very, very positive thing."

As Congressman Wolf points out, a lot of these decisions would rely on the annual USCIRF reports that details the countries of particular concern. As chairman, I can tell you that in the 28 countries we track -- and the ones that end up on our watchlists don't want to be on it. "Your commission," Frank explained, "would be empowered... People would be coming in and saying, 'We want to get off that list. You know, Mr. Chairman, please take us off. We're going to do whatever you want us to do.' So if you care about persecution of Christians, Catholic and Protestant, Buddhist Muslims, Falun Gong, this is a very powerful thing."

Of course, some people will throw cold water on anything the Trump administration proposes -- including this. Politico talked to some critics who thought hitching our foreign aid to something like religious liberty would be "detrimental" to our international relations. But this is our money, in my view -- and we ought to have strings attached to it. If people want to come along with us on such fundamental human right as religious freedom, we can reward that behavior. And if they refuse to protect the innocent people being persecuted -- even by third parties and non-state actors -- we should hold them accountable. "I don't see how it would be hurtful to anybody except the people who were doing the bad things."

And, as Congressman Wolf explains, America wouldn't have to resort to this a lot for it to be effective. "Once it's used once or twice, the message gets out." Leaders around the world would have to know: They either shape up -- or watch their money ship out. "I don't see any downside, frankly." And neither should anyone in this country -- Left or Right -- who truly cares about the world's victims.