(CORRECTION) Activists: 15 years later, religious freedom law falls short

WASHINGTON — Fifteen years after Congress passed a law to better protect global religious freedom, the legislation is failing to … Continued

WASHINGTON — Fifteen years after Congress passed a law to better protect global religious freedom, the legislation is failing to fulfill its mission, activists told lawmakers on Thursday (June 13).

The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) chartered the bipartisan and independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which is charged with advising the State Department and Capitol Hill on protecting religious freedoms abroad.

It also created the State Department’s position of ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, and requires the State Department to name “countries of particular concern” that most egregiously violate religious liberties.

But Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University, said an “anemic, largely rhetorical methodology” by the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations has resulted in “a loss of conviction among policy makers that religious freedom is the first freedom.”

As if to make the point, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, skipped Thursday’s first-ever hearing by the National Security Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee.

According to Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the State Department withdrew Johnson Cook as a witness to avoid placing her on a panel with witnesses from non-governmental organizations. Chaffetz called Johnson Cook’s absence “terribly disappointing” and “a waste of Congress’ time.”

A persistent divide between the State Department and USCIRF is over the designation of “countries of particular concern.” USCIRF consistently wants more nations singled out and more often; diplomats in Foggy Bottom typically want fewer.

Johnson Cook’s recent report didn’t update the list of worst offenders since 2011, although State Department officials say the current list doesn’t expire until August. USCIRF Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett said the list cannot continue to lag.

“We continue to believe that when combined with the prospect of sanctions or other actions, CPC designations can move repressive governments to undertake critical changes,” Lantos Swett said.

The State Department’s current list includes Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as the worst offenders.USCIRF wants to add an additional seven: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

“Unfortunately, neither Republican nor Democratic administrations have designated CPCs in a timely manner and they generally have imposed pre-existing sanctions, not unique actions,” Lantos Swett said. While she would like to see actions taken against these countries, such as making U.S. financial aid conditional, ultimately USCIRF lacks any real power.

“At the end of the day, that’s really a decision for the Congress,” Lantos Swett said. “I mean, this is where the Congress has to act to hold any administration’s feet to the fire in terms of how that aid is to be handled.”

Johnson Cook’s position went unfilled for the first two years of President Obama’s first term, and USCIRF nearly went out of business last summer until Congress stepped in. Johnson Cook, a former Baptist minister from the Bronx, faced initial skepticism for her lack of experience in the field.

Farr said three administrations since IRFA was created have assumed a narrow approach to the issue of religious freedom_focusing solely on reports, speeches and lists of severe persecutors. The government, he said, is merely “raising the issue” not “solving the problem.”


Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.