Renewal of religious watchdog panel awaits Obama signature
A bill to renew a federal panel that monitors religious freedom worldwide has been sent to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was set to expire on Sept. 30. Its funding was renewed through early December as part of the recently passed overall government-funding bill.
On Tuesday, the House passed a bill to renew USCIRF through fiscal 2019. The Senate version of the bill, introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, passed Sept. 30.
“Tragically, religious believers are under siege around the world — from Christian minorities in the Middle East, to the Baha’i in Iran, to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, California Republican, said at the passage of the House USCIRF reauthorization bill.
The bill will allow the panel to “continue its nonpartisan mission of promoting religious liberty around the world,” he said.
Mr. Royce said his committee had met recently with a woman from Iraq who is part of the Yazidi, a persecuted religious minority. Islamic radicals with ISIS reject the Yazidi, and kill its men and capture, rape and sell its women and children.
The USCIRF, created in 1998 by Congress, is intended to monitor and chronicle abuses of religious freedom, so such issues can be included in the crafting of U.S. foreign policies.
Like the Trafficking In Persons report issued by the State Department, “the
USCIRF annual report exposes lawbreakers and violators of human rights — and recommends what actions should be taken,” said Rep. Randy Hultgren, Illinois Republican and executive committee member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
USCIRF, which is led by Princeton University law scholar Robert P. George, recently issued a statement lamenting the third year of Iranian imprisonment for Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini.
The panel also welcomed Pope Francis to America as a “powerful voice for the persecuted and the displaced around the world.”
Francis has repeatedly clarified that religious freedom is “not just a matter of thought or private devotion,” but a “fundamental right of the person” that must be protected in international and national laws, USCIRF said.