Assessing public support for international religious freedom

Evidence from the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey


  • Luke M. Perez


International Religious Freedom Act, FoRB promotion, religious freedom, policy support, public opinion, Cooperative Congressional Election Survey


The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) provides the US government with additional tools and information to promote the rights of religious minorities around the world. In addition to mandating annual reporting by the State Department, the law created an independent watchdog agency to monitor religious freedom around the world and provides the president with additional sanctioning powers for states that abuse religious minorities. Little is known, however, about the extent of American knowledge of and support for these policies. Most studies to date have focused on the influence of religious affiliation (using the tri-partite schema of “believing,” “belonging,” and “behaving”) on respondent preferences for discrete US policies. This paper investigates the contours of American public opinion regarding international religious freedom, relying on original data from the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey. The data suggest that many respondents are unaware of the law, but among those who are knowledgeable of the scope of IRFA, support for international religious freedom remains strong. The data also indicate that US respondents who believe USChina competition is among the most important national security concerns are among those most likely to believe that IRFA policies strengthen US national security.