Appendix E: Department of State Training Related to the International Religious Freedom Act - 2017

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
May 29, 2018

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Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Department of State is tasked with training Foreign Service Officers in human rights broadly and religious freedom specifically. The Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) works closely with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor’s Office of International Religious Freedom (DRL/IRF) to do so. Training in human rights and religious freedom begins when an officer enters the Foreign Service and continues through various levels and career stages.

FSI continues to offer specialized courses on Promoting Human Rights and Democracy (featuring specific modules on religious freedom) and Religion and Foreign Policy. DRL/IRF offers Regional Religious Freedom Seminars to staff assigned overseas. In language and regional studies courses, reading materials and learning modules regularly address topics of religious freedom and tolerance.

To meet additional training requirements of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016, sessions on religious freedom are conducted during the A-100 orientation for new Foreign Service Officers, as well as during the Ambassadorial and Deputy Chiefs of Mission/Principal Officer Seminars. To fully meet the Act’s requirements, a distance learning course on religious freedom is being developed by DRL and FSI which will be required for all Foreign Service Officers prior to their assignment overseas.


A. Courses on Human Rights and Religious Freedom


This course, offered by FSI in Washington twice a year, exposes U.S. officials to common themes appropriate for engaging religious and faith-based communities in the field and teaches best practices for incorporating religious community outreach and religious freedom advocacy into broader U.S. foreign policy objectives and post engagements. Through a focus on tradecraft skills, the course trains entry- and midlevel officers serving in Washington and in embassies and consulates overseas to use the annual International Religious Freedom Report and other tools to expand outreach to, and strengthen relationships with, members of religious communities. Course topics include: promoting religious freedom, tools for interfaith outreach and dialogue, the relationship between religion and foreign policy, religion and national security, addressing anti-Semitism and other forms of religiously-motivated societal intolerance, promoting mutual respect in foreign societies, understanding the situation of vulnerable religious minorities, the role of women in religious communities, and U.S. initiatives to prevent and counter violent extremism.


These 2- to 3-day seminars, offered by DRL/IRF staff 3-5 times per year at various locations around the world, provide practical, in-depth training on U.S. efforts to advance respect for religious freedom to human rights officers and locally employed staff currently serving at U.S. missions in a particular geographical region. These seminars are geared to helping officers in the field improve tradecraft and share best practices for advancing respect for religious freedom in their assigned countries, effectively engaging local religious community and civil society actors, providing effective reporting on religious freedom topics, and understanding how U.S. Congressional interest and advocacy by U.S.-based civil society shapes this work. Sessions have taken place at locations including Bangkok, Johannesburg, Frankfurt, Budapest, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


This course provides a broad overview of human rights-related issues and a deeper examination of key current issues. FSI offers this course in Washington three times a year targeting entry- and midlevel officers and locally engaged staff from posts overseas to provide them with U.S. policies, tools, and best practices for promoting human rights and democracy, including religious freedom, in the field. FSI and DRL jointly developed the curriculum, which includes a session specifically devoted to religious freedom, along with other sessions that address issues relevant to religious freedom including human rights law, working with nongovernmental organizations, and monitoring and reporting human rights abuses.


FSI offers a distance learning course entitled Religion and Conflict designed to help foreign affairs professionals better assess religion-relevant dynamics in conflict and better engage religious leaders and communities in conflict mitigation efforts. Religion and Conflict targets officers interested in improving their understanding of religious dynamics; exploring ways to promote tolerance across religious groups; developing relationships with representatives of faith communities; and ultimately addressing drivers of conflict. The Religion and Conflict course content was developed by FSI in partnership with the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, DRL, and USAID after receiving a grant from the Una Chapman Cox Foundation. The course is a complement to the four-day classroom-based course Religion and Foreign Policy.


FSI offers this distance learning course for officers at post and in the Department who draft, edit, and clear these reports. The course provides detailed instruction on the annual update process. It also includes information on the legislative underpinning of the reports, tips on how to collect information throughout the year for both reports, and notes on how to develop a deeper understanding of the instructions for the two reports.

B. Additional Training on Human Rights and Religious Freedom at FSI

DRL works closely with FSI to integrate material on human rights and religious freedom into training at all levels, including during the A-100 orientation for new Foreign Service Officers, as well as during the Ambassadorial and Deputy Chiefs of Mission/Principal Officer Seminars. Annual FSI training courses for locally employed staff serving in political and combined political/economic sections overseas also include modules on human rights and religious freedom.

DRL/IRF and FSI cooperate closely to incorporate information about human rights and religious freedom into the long-term geographical area studies courses associated with language training. IRF officers participate in presenting topics such as international human rights law, including the right to freedom of religion; theological beliefs of different religious groups; state actions against members of religious groups and violations and abuses of religious freedom; involvement of members of religious groups in politics; diplomatic tools used by the United States to promote respect for religious freedom; means of protection of those who have fled religious persecution; and the relationships among religious freedom, democracy, and national security.

In addition, FSI offers more than 25 cultural/regional area studies courses, as well as familiarization courses on Afghanistan (16 per year), Iraq (16 per year), and Pakistan (5 per year), all of which address aspects of religion, including: religious practices; religious sensitivities; differing ways of thinking about religious identity; religion as a source of community, conflict, and peacebuilding; the relationship of religion to broader questions of citizenship, enfranchisement, and politics; and the link between human rights broadly and religious freedom.

FSI also offers a course specifically on Islam and Muslim communities. Among other topics, this course addresses countering violent extremism and the moderating effect of inclusion on religiously based political movements.


DRL/IRF continually updates information and material distributed at relevant courses. It also has revamped or created intranet sites containing background materials on religious freedom and highlighting best practices for protecting and promoting religious freedom.

DRL intranet sites, which are available only to Department of State and embassy personnel, provide background on human rights and religious freedom issues, including country-specific information, information on Countries and Entities of Particular Concern designations (for particularly severe violations of religious freedom), and general information and points of contact in the Office of International Religious Freedom.

The following background materials related to religious freedom are made available to FSI students:

  • Annual Reports on International Religious Freedom from 1999 through the present
  • Department statements on religious freedom, specific to various countries
  • Press guidance related to religious freedom themes and topics
  • Policy statements of the Secretary and other U.S. government officials on religious freedom
  • Diplopedia, an intranet wiki, contains an online compendium of posts’ engagement with religious entities as a source for best practices in promoting religious freedom.
  • Highlights from Key International Documents: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 18); and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 18, 26, & 27).