DRL FY20 IRF: Promoting and Defending Freedom(s) Inclusive of Humanism

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DRL FY20 IRF Promoting and Defending Religious Freedom Inclusive of Atheist, Humanist, Non-Practicing and Non-Affiliated Individuals



APRIL 21, 2021

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announces an open competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for projects that support Religious Freedom globally.

“Religious freedom” refers to the right set out in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the freedom to adopt a religion or beliefs, change your beliefs, practice and teach your beliefs (which may include through publications, public and private speech, and the display of religious attire or symbols), gather in community with others to worship and observe your beliefs, and teach your beliefs to your children. It also states that no one shall be subject to coercion that would impair one’s freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his/her choice. Proposed programming must be responsive to restrictions on religious freedom, and must be in line with the U.S. Government’s religious freedom, democracy, governance, and human rights goals.

Helpful resources for applicants include the annual country-specific International Religious Freedom Reports https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/ and annual country-specific Human Rights Reports https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/.

Applicants will be responsible for ensuring program activities and products are implemented in accordance with the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.

DRL’s goal is to ensure everyone enjoys religious freedom, including the freedom to dissent from religious belief and to not practice or adhere to a religion. By not adhering to a predominant religious tradition, many individuals face discrimination in employment, housing, in civil and criminal proceedings, and other areas especially in the context of intersectional identities. DRL’s objective is to combat discrimination, harassment and abuses against atheist, humanist, non-practicing and non-affiliated individuals of all religious communities by strengthening networks among these communities and providing organizational training and resources.

Activities should take place in 2-3 countries selected within one of the following regions: South/Central Asia- countries within the SCA region as defined by the State Department; or the Middle East/North Africa (excluding Libya, Syria, and Yemen)- countries within the NEA region as defined by the State Department. Proposals are discouraged from including countries where ongoing conflict or violence would negatively affect beneficiary safety or quality of program oversight and must be accompanied by a strong justification in the proposal narrative should any such countries be included. By addressing and combatting discrimination towards those who are non-affiliated, non-practicing, or of no belief will increase the levels of religious freedom enjoyed by all people.

Expected Program Outcomes include but are not limited to:

  • Increased availability of mechanisms for members of minorities and marginalized groups – particularly atheists and nonbelievers – to advocate with community leaders and local and regional government officials regarding their religious freedom concerns;
  • Increased capacity among members of atheist and heterodox individuals to form or join networks or organizations, implement advocacy campaigns, and to engage with the public on issues of tolerance and acceptance of all regardless of faith;
  • Increased awareness and understanding among relevant government officials and law enforcement of the value and importance of human rights, peace, mutual respect, tolerance, and inclusion for all, irrespective of one’s religion or beliefs;
  • Increased awareness among citizens at the community level of concepts and implications of religious pluralism, mutual respect and inclusion for all, regardless of religion or belief;
  • Increased community-level interfaith or advocacy interactions inclusive of atheist, humanist, non-practicing and non-affiliated individuals (particularly those who are pressured, mandated and/or coerced into religious participation that is contrary to their personal non-belief system or philosophy);
  • Legal sector actors and/or local government officials are respectful and attentive towards the needs and interests of these individuals.

Program activities could include, but are not limited to:

  • Creating or strengthening networks of advocates for the diverse communities of atheist, humanist, non-practicing and non-affiliated individuals of all religious communities in target countries.
  • Strengthening the capacity of organizations representing diverse communities of atheist, humanist, non-practicing and non-affiliated individuals of all religious communities to advocate for their rights to political, legal, and societal leaders. Capacity building activities may include improving management structure, public engagement skills, legal rights advocacy, digital security, physical security, psychosocial support and coalition building techniques for these groups regardless of faith affiliation;
  • Expanding or creating opportunities for dialogue, coalition building, and joint action between faith and non-faith organizations in support of freedom of religion and belief. This can include but is not limited to public fora, town halls, journalism, public outreach/education, media campaigns, small grants, and other work;
  • Increasing capacity for monitoring and documenting religious freedom abuses or discrimination against individuals because of non-belief or on the basis of frequency/nature of an individual’s religious observance/practices- particularly those who are pressured, mandated, or coerced into religious participation that is contrary to their personal non-belief system or philosophy. Documentation can include: incident reports to support justice sector action, aggregate reports for legal or policy change advocacy, or quantitative reports for advocacy with international or multinational human rights bodies or agencies.

For all programs, projects should aim to have impact that leads to reforms and should have the potential for sustainability beyond DRL resources. DRL’s preference is to avoid duplicating past efforts by supporting new and creative approaches. This does not exclude from consideration projects that improve upon or expand existing successful projects in a new and complementary way. Programs should seek to include groups that can bring perspectives based on their religion (including non-belief), gender, disability, race, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation and gender identity. Programs should be demand-driven and locally led to the extent possible. DRL also requires all of its programming to be non-discriminatory and expects implementers to include strategies for integration of individuals/organizations regardless of religion, gender, disability, race, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation and gender identity.

Competitive proposals may also include a summary budget and budget narrative for 12 additional months following the proposed period of performance, indicated above. This information should indicate what objective(s) and/or activities could be accomplished with additional time and/or funds beyond the proposed period of performance.

Where appropriate, competitive proposals may include:

  • Opportunities for beneficiaries to apply their new knowledge and skills in practical efforts;
  • Solicitation of feedback and suggestions from beneficiaries when developing activities in order to strengthen the sustainability of programs and participant ownership of project outcomes;
  • Input from participants on sustainability plans and systematic review of the plans throughout the life of the project, with adjustments made as necessary;
  • Inclusion of vulnerable populations;
  • Joint identification and definition of key concepts with relevant stakeholders and stakeholder input into project activities;
  • Systematic follow up with beneficiaries at specific intervals after the completion of activities to track how beneficiaries are retaining new knowledge as well as applying their new skills.

Activities that are not typically allowed include, but are not limited to:

  • The provision of humanitarian assistance;
  • English language instruction;
  • Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware;
  • Purely academic exchanges or fellowships;
  • External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six months;
  • Off-shore activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary per security concerns;
  • Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;
  • Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives;
  • Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of targeted countries.

More available on the US Department of State’s website (link at the top of this article).

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