Robert P. George Elected to Chair International Religious Freedom Commission

on July 27, 2013

On July 23, 2013, Dr. Robert P. George was elected Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). USCIRF, an independent, bi-partisan U.S. federal government commission tasked with making policy recommendations to the President, Congress, and the State Department, was created by Congress through the enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. At that time, religious freedom advocates, including IRD’s Religious Liberty Program, had won a victory to see international religious persecution and freedom concerns enshrined in U.S. foreign policy.

Dr. George, who IRD is proud to claim as a member of our Board of Directors (Emeritus), is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School. The author of many books, including The Clash of Orthodoxies, George was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush in 2008. When presenting the award to George, The White House said, “With wisdom and integrity, Dr. Robby George has brought forceful analytic clarity to the study of America’s ideals and institutions.  He has helped strengthen our Nation’s system of ordered liberty by exploring enduring questions of American constitutional law and Western political theory.  The United States honors Robby George for his many contributions to our civic life.”

Speaker of the House, John Boehner, first appointed Dr. George to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2012. Newly-elected Vice-Chair, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, was also appointed in 2012, by Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Dr. Jasser, a former Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy, is the founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy which advocates for the principles of the U.S. Constitution and for separation between mosque and state. The author of The Battle for the Soul of Islam, he is also a friend of IRD’s Religious Liberty Program.

The outgoing USCIRF Chair, Dr. Katrina Lantos Sweet, was also appointed in 2012. An appointee of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, she has been elected to serve again, this time as a Vice-Chair along with Dr. Jasser. Of his predecessor, the daughter of the late U.S. Representative Tom Lantos, George said, “I have big shoes to fill: Dr. Lantos Swett is a visionary leader who brings people together and empowers them in support of international religious freedom.”

Lantos Swett declared her pleasure in Dr. George’s election. She said of George, “He is a true human rights champion whose compassion for victims of oppression and wisdom about international religious freedom shine through all we have accomplished this past year.” She revealed that the entire bipartisan Commission is “united in its admiration for Professor George’s skills as an advocate and leader of the international religious freedom movement” and is “eager to continue its work under his able leadership.”

USCIRF has come through some rough waters in recent years. In 2011, I wrote about how the Commission was almost shut down when the Senate delayed (and delayed) reauthorization of operating funds due to some other internal political battles. The Commission was saved, though, by a majority voice vote in the House of Representatives. At the time, U.S. Representative Frank Wolf, who drafted the language for the Commission’s reauthorization, said, “The commission is a beacon of hope for those whose most fundamental liberties are under assault.” He said that he was “grateful that Congress recognizes the importance of the work of the commission.”

George is known for having drafted the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto concerning faithfulness to biblical standards on such issues as abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage that was signed by Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical leaders. Some who are familiar with him in this regard may be surprised at his participation on USCIRF. But the truth is that while passionate about American cultural issues and the preservation of religious freedom in America, Dr. George is also passionate about religious freedom around the world – something that many who are concerned about their own domestic church/social issues forget or neglect. He understands the moral imperative that connects the two worlds.

Serving along with George, Jasser, and Lantos Swett, are five other commissioners — Elliott Abrams, Sam Gejdensen, Professor Mary Ann Glendon, Dean Eric P. Schwartz, and the Rev. William Shaw, along with Ex-Officio member, Ambassador Suzan D. Johnson Cook.  At IRD we hope and pray that the Commission will continue to, as Dr. George said upon his election as Chairman, work “to ensure that the cause of religious freedom, understood in its most robust sense, is given the high priority it deserves in the formation and execution of U.S. foreign policy.” With Robert George at the helm, I have great hopes that USCIRF will do just that.


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