October 21, 2011 Print

U.S. Religious Freedom Commission Could Disappear

by Karla Dial

An independent U.S. agency which advises the State Department on international religious freedom is in danger of being dissolved by Nov. 18.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), created through bipartisan legislation during the Clinton administration, is the only group addressing the issue that has an official role within the federal government. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 391-21 on Sept. 15 to reauthorize it for two more years, and the Senate was set to follow suit — until a single senator anonymously placed a hold on the bill, for undisclosed reasons.

Unless that individual recalls the hold, the Senate cannot vote on the reauthorization bill, and the USCIRF — the group responsible for bringing to light the plight of an Iranian pastor set to be put to death for his Christian faith — will cease to exist by Thanksgiving.

“We talk to heads of state and really lay it out. We really are a voice for the downtrodden,” said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and one of USCIRF’s nine commissioners. “If the U.S. government designates a country like as an ‘egregious persecutor,’ there are policy implications that go along with that. It requires that issue to be put on the agenda as an official talking point in diplomatic relations. If it weren’t for the Commission, those countries wouldn’t be named.”

Learn more about the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Read “Rising Restrictions on Religion,” by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Want to get involved? Call your U.S. senators — particularly Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Majority Whip Dick Durbin — and urge them to reauthorize funding for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom by asking the responsible party to remove the anonymous hold so a vote on H.R. 2867 can take place.