Religious groups: Don’t dismantle USCIRF

From WORLD. RELIGIOUS LIBERTY | International advocates back Sen. Marco Rubio’s reauthorization bill and insist the United States needs a strong, independent voice for religious liberty

by J.C. Derrick. Posted 8/26/15, 08:25 am

WASHINGTON—A coalition of international religious freedom groups is urging the Senate to approve a six-year reauthorization for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and reject attempts to cripple the organization.

Eighty-six partners of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable this week delivered a letter to the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which currently is weighing two drastically different visions for USCIRF. The letter noted the authors agree on “very little” theologically, but they agree religious freedom strengthens cultures, stabilizes democracies, and is “the ultimate counter-terrorism weapon.”

“The most effective way to ensure the continuity of USCIRF’s essential mandate to protect and promote religious freedom worldwide is for the Senate to pass, in a timely fashion, S. 1798,” the groups wrote to Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the Foreign Relations chairman, and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking member.

Last month Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., filed S. 1798, a reauthorization bill that would bolster USCIRF operations, allow it to designate non-state actors like ISIS and Boko Haram “countries of particular concern,” and mandate training for all foreign service officers.

Greg Mitchell, co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, said 86 signatures is the most in the coalition’s history. That number likely will grow since the letter will remain open for signatures until Sept. 8.

Congress created USCIRF in 1998 as an independent body that would offer the president, secretary of state, and Congress a candid assessment of global religious freedom conditions. Its authorization sunsets at the end of September, so the commission will shutter next month if Congress does not act in the 10 remaining legislative days before then.

Last month, another bipartisan group of thought leaders urged Congress to pass the Smith-Eshoo bill and “develop a national strategy addressing the tragic global crisis in religious freedom.” The letter’s authors included former USCIRF commissioners Imam Talal Eid and Leonard Leo, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, Baylor University chancellor Ken Starr, former Clinton administration adviser William Galston, Washington archbishop Donald Wuerl, pastor Rick Warren, author Eric Metaxas, and Harvard Law School’s Alan Dershowitz and Mary Ann Glendon (who also is a current USCIRF commissioner).

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