But ongoing global religious freedom issues require more of us to do battle on behalf of the persecuted!
The United States government’s watchdog for those around the world who are being persecuted because of their religious beliefs will continue its work. On October 6, 2015, Senate Bill 2078, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act was passed by voice vote in the U.S. House of Representatives and has been sent to President Obama for his signature. The passage of this bill demonstrates the power of advocacy in shaping U.S. policy.
Just a few months ago, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) doors were in danger of being forever closed. For years, passing legislation to reauthorize the commission (which was created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, but with a “sunset” provision requiring vigilant attention to reauthorization) has been a struggle. The efforts of human rights and religious freedom organizations from across the spectrum of political and theological beliefs have been invaluable in winning the battle — year after year — usually at the eleventh hour.
Once again this year, activists, as well as those across the globe who rely on the moral will of the United States Congress, were concerned about USCIRF’s survival. For this reason, IRD, along with 111 other organizations and individuals sent a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging the passage of USCIRF reauthorization bill S. 1798, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). You can read more about that bill and the competing S. 1860, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in this previous blog post. USCIRF Commission Chairs Dr. Robert George and Katrina Lantos Swett called some of the provisions in S. 1860 “deeply troubling” and said that they would be “damaging to the work” of the commission.
During the debate in the House of Representatives, Congressman Chris Smith, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, praised the multi-faith religious freedom coalition, the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, for its advocacy. Smith also thanked Senator Corker for “helping to shepherd this legislation through the Senate when there were some contentious issues.” It was Corker who introduced S. 2078, that includes features of both the Rubio and Cardin bills on September 24.
To apply Smith’s “shepherding” metaphor, unfortunately Corker did manage to lose some of the sheep in the Senate process. The bill is not the destructive Durbin bill, but it is not what all would have hoped for who supported the Rubio bill, either. Senator Rubio praised the Senate passage of S. 2078 on September 30, identifying what is probably the best feature of the bill — a 4-year authorization “which would allow them to focus, without distraction, on their critical mandate at precisely the time its most needed.”
But other provisions of Rubio’s bill which would have been very helpful in helping to combat religious persecution were not included in the bill that passed. One such provision was expanding the designation of “Countries of Particular Concern” to non-state actors such as jihadist terrorists ISIS and Boko Haram. In light of the ongoing genocidal action of ISIS against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in Iraq, Syria, and the wider Middle East, and the targeting of Christians in northern and central Nigeria by Boko Haram, this would seem very appropriate.
The reality is that more advocacy may have ensured an even better outcome. A letter with 112 signatures of organizations and individuals stopped disaster, and we are extremely grateful for it. A grassroots effort by thousands of churches and others concerned about religious freedom across America would obviously put even more pressure on American lawmakers. If American churches show solidarity with and stand for persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, the result could be a sea-change in the wider culture that cannot help but affect U.S. policy.
Ongoing global religious freedom issues require more than U.S. churches have so far been willing to put out: more of us to care as much about the worldwide Body of Christ as we do about our own issues, more of us to find our voices and avenues of influence with policymakers, and more of us to do battle on behalf of all those who are persecuted for their faith.