The community of policy experts who work on international religious-freedom issues, and particularly those who advocate for persecuted Christians, have been waiting for a message like this for a long time. Behind the scenes, many have been pushing for religious-liberty issues to become a higher priority at the State Department. In the quiet December days after the election, Congress passed a little-noticed law, the Frank R. Wolf Act, to shift the way the State Department handles religion. The law allows government watchdogs to call out people and groups, not just countries, that threaten religious freedom. Most importantly, it underscores that global religious freedom is not just a human-rights issue. The law argues that it’s a core part of U.S. national security.
The administration has echoed this argument, particularly with Pence’s Reagan-esque speech on Thursday. The administration is “reaffirming America’s role as a beacon of hope and life and liberty,” he said, declaring that “America was and is and ever will be a shining city on a hill.” The vice president’s speech was almost like a sermon, observed Johnnie Moore, a former Liberty University vice president who works on religious-freedom issues. It was strong on “evangelical nuance,” Moore said, filled with biblical references; over and over, Pence expressed solidarity with “followers of Christ.”