Rep. Wolf Chides Obama About 'Potential Persecution'

Friday, 28 Mar 2014 01:13 PM

By Joe Battaglia

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Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf wrote a pointed letter to President Barack Obama asking him to appoint a special envoy for persecuted religious minorities, taking issue with his reference of "potential persecution" of Christians in his meeting Thursday with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Wolf, an advocate for international religious freedom, said he took "great interest" in Obama's sentiment that protecting the interests of religious minorities was "central to U.S. foreign policy."

"Your administration could act today, consistent with the sentiments you expressed following your meeting with the pope," Wolf wrote. "I urge you to put your words into action, lest inaction be perceived as indifference."

Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

Following his meeting with Pope Francis, Obama said at a press conference in Rome that he and the pontiff discussed ongoing conflicts and "how elusive peace is around the world."

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"There was some specific focus on the Middle East where his holiness has a deep interest in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but also what's happening in Syria, what's happening in Lebanon, and the potential persecution of Christians," Obama said. "I reaffirmed that it is central to U.S. foreign policy that we protect the interests of religious minorities around the world."

Wolf responded in his letter by saying, "I think most would agree that there is not simply 'potential persecution' of Christians, and I would add other vulnerable religious minorities. Rather there is a very real threat posed to these ancient faith communities throughout the region as evidenced by the discrimination, violence and even death that is a daily reality."

Wolf has authored legislation seeking to create an envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia regions, with priority given to Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The measure first passed the House in 2011 but died in the Senate in 2012 when it was held at the urging of then-Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia. Wolf reintroduced the legislation in 2013 and it passed the House in September. A companion bill passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 2013.

Wolf argued that immediate action by the president would enable him to "begin consulting with the affected communities, including the growing diaspora communities here in the U.S., about a high profile person best suited to take on this monumental task."

Lack of action by the Obama administration on the issue has incensed Wolf.

In a House floor speech addressing the languishing of his special envoy legislation last December, Wolf was critical of the administration's response to Pakistanis facing death sentences for "blasphemy" and for not doing more in the wake of churches disappearing in Afghanistan.

"How do we explain the utter lack of urgency on the part of our own government to address an epic exodus – that of Christianity from its very birthplace?" Wolf asked the House, according to CNSnews.com.

Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

In his letter to the president, Wolf wrote that perception can begin changing by taking action now.

"I do not pretend to think that a special envoy, as envisioned by the legislation I authored, would single-handedly solve the problem, for it is vast," Wolf said in the letter. "But I can say with certainty that it would provide much-needed hope and comfort to communities desperate to know that the United States stands with them."

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