In the late 1990's the U.S. Congress, faith-based non-governmental organizations, and the Department of State began debating the issue of how to effectively confront religious discrimination and persecution abroad. The issues discussed were significant and controversial: Is it possible for the United States to influence foreign governments that discriminate on the basis of religious orientation? What religions should be covered? What regions? Could the United States legitimately identify one manner of persecution as more serious than another form, or would that create a harmful precedent?
After numerous debates a consensus emerged. In October 1998, President Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act, passed unanimously by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The Act mandated the establishment of an Office of International Religious Freedom within the Department of State, headed by an Ambassador-at-Large that acts as the principle advisor to the President and Secretary of State in matters concerning religious freedom abroad. It also mandated the establishment of the independent, bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and a Special Adviser on International Religious Freedom at the National Security CouncilOn August 17, 1999 the Act was amended by Public Law 106-55.