The U.S. State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom describes the history of this act:
"Religious freedom came to the forefront of American foreign policy in 1996, when then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced the creation of an Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. The Committee was influenced by the many faith-based organizations that began lobbying the U.S. Congress to pay greater attention to human rights during the 1980's and 1990's. The Committee, consisting of 20 American religious leaders and scholars, produced an interim report in 1998 and a final draft in 1999 that recommended a foreign policy agenda geared toward the promotion of religious freedom worldwide.
At the same time, the U.S. Congress, faith-based nongovernmental organizations, and the Department of State began discussing ways to integrate religious freedom initiatives into U.S. foreign policy. The product of these debates was the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998."
This act also required yearly reports on the state of religious freedom around the world.