Chairman: Don’t Let Religious Freedom Commission Die

Saturday, 19 Nov 2011 08:52 AM

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An eleventh-hour temporary spending measure passed by Congress Thursday provides a one-month reprieve for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), but its future remains in doubt because of a Senate block on reauthorization legislation – a block reportedly unconnected with the issue of religious freedom.

The commission’s chairman, Leonard Leo, appealed Thursday for the Senate to lift the hold, reports CNSnews.com.

“Disbanding USCIRF would signal to the world that the United States is retreating from the cause of religious freedom,” he told a hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

Created by the landmark 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), the USCIRF has played a key role in elevating religious freedom promotion in U.S. foreign policy, and a number of religious freedom advocacy groups have expressed alarm at the prospect that it may be shut down.

A bill authorizing the commission for another two years passed by the House of Representatives by a 391-21 vote nine weeks ago has been languishing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since September 15 – held up, according to published reports, by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

CNSnews.com reports that the Senate hold may be tied to a dispute over funding for a prison in Durbin’s home state. Durbin’s office did not responded to CNSnews.com’s requests for comment.

Thursday’s House subcommittee hearing examined the State Department’s annual IRFA-mandated report on international religious freedom. Before turning to the report, Leo told the panel that the Senate was poised to let the USCIRF’s authorization expire.

“The Senate needs to reauthorize USCIRF now, before the clock runs out,” Leo said.

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