In mid-November, ICC asked its supporters to start making emergency calls to Congress on behalf of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF. The Commission, which is perhaps the greatest voice in the U.S government speaking up for the rights of religious minorities today, was on life support. A single senator was holding up the funding for USCIRF and putting America’s reputation as the champion of human rights and religious freedom at risk. ICC sent a representative to his office, and ICC supporters made dozens of calls. Soon after, the Commission got a temporary stay of execution. However, its long term existence remains tenuous and still hangs on the decision of the same unrelenting senator – Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.
What is USCIRF?
It is an unfortunate but well known fact in political circles that religious persecution is a very low priority for the U.S. government. Created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, over the past twelve years USCIRF has used a few dedicated professionals, unpaid commissioners, and a relatively tiny budget to investigate and report on a massive amount of religious freedom violations around the globe. The State Department also has an International Religious Freedom office, but its reporting on issues of religious persecution is compromised by political considerations that USCIRF doesn’t have to deal with. If USCIRF ceases to exist, then what little emphasis the United States did put on promoting international religious freedom will certainly be reduced.
USCIRF also makes detailed policy recommendations to the White House, Congress, and the State Department. When Secretary of State Clinton traveled to Burma, one of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians, USCIRF wrote a letter strongly encouraging the secretary to publicly address persecution. In 2010, when Muslim groups tried to pass a resolution in the U.N. to make it internationally illegal to say anything considered “offensive” about Islam, USCIRF was instrumental in campaigning against the legislation, which ultimately failed.
A World Without USCIRF?
What many don’t seem to understand is that the future of millions of people who live in constant fear of persecution is at stake. The United States wields a great deal of influence overseas, and most foreign governments will work to keep stable what is usually a valuable economic relationship with the U.S.. This in turn means that they often have to promote human rights and religious freedom to avoid uncomfortable sanctions. American influence, if used correctly, can have a profoundly positive effect on the policies of foreign governments towards religious minorities. In some cases, it can even lead to wrongfully tortured and imprisoned Christians being set free on the spot.
In a world where nearly 200 million Christians are suffering persecution at any given point, every voice that speaks up for them is important. If the United States loses USCIRF, it will lose one of the only official organizations that promotes what Americans have always considered a fundamental right — a right established in the very first sentence of the first amendment to the U.S Constitution.
How You Can Help
Please agree with us in prayer for America’s leaders, that they will seek the Lord’s guidance in their decision making, and that they will continue to make religious freedom a priority for the government of the United States by funding the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom. You can also still make calls to Senator Durbin’s office at 202-224-2152, asking him to release his call back on H.R. 2867.