IRD: U.S. Global Religious Freedom Advocacy Under Threat Again

on September 3, 2015

Institute on Religion and Democracy Press Release
September 3, 2015
Contact: Jeff Walton office: 202-682-4131, cell: 202-413-5639, e-mail: [email protected]

“Helping persecuted Christians and others will become far more difficult if USCIRF is ended.”
-Faith J. H. McDonnell, IRD Religious Liberty Program Director

Washington, DC—A coalition of organizations and individuals that advocate on behalf of persecuted religious minorities is fighting for the re-authorization of a commission chartered to spotlight religious freedom concerns. Supporters of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) say it faces attempts to cripple and even dismantle it.

USCIRF functions as an independent federal commission to advise the President, State Department, and Congress on conditions of global religious persecution through an annual report and other methods, including identification of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) – where violations of religious freedom are most egregious.

The Commissions authorization sunsets on September 30. Under the coordination of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, 91 advocates have signed on to a letter endorsing USCIRF to the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that is considering two different bills concerning the re-authorization of USCIRF.

The letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urges a six-year re-authorization of the commission, along with other various other provisions strengthening USCIRF’s mandate. These provisions are outlined in Senate Bill 1798, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in July. S 1798 would allow USCIRF to expand the designation of “countries of particular concern” to include non-state actors such as ISIS and Boko Haram as “entities of particular concern for religious freedom.” It would also require that Foreign Service Officers receive USCIRF-provided training “in internationally recognized human rights, including on the relationship between religious freedom and security and the role of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.”

The letter expresses alarm over a rival bill, S 1860, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). Durbin’s bill “would significantly alter USCIRF, including: make USCIRF subject to the Freedom of Information Act, remove the requirement of a bipartisan commission vote for staffing decisions, roll back commissioners’ information-gathering ability, and make USCIRF’s annual report a response to the State Department’s international religious freedom report—killing its advisory role,” according to J.C. Derrick of World Magazine.

IRD Religious Liberty Program Director Faith J. H. McDonnell commented:

“If you care about the persecuted church, here is a very tangible way in which you can ‘do something.’ Helping persecuted Christians and others will become far more difficult if USCIRF is ended, or even restricted in the ways it would be under Durbin bill S 1860. Urge your senators to support Senator Rubio’s bill, S 1798 and ensure its passage before September 30, when the sun sets on USCIRF.”

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