At Long Last, U.S. Senate Unanimously Passes Bill to Create Middle East Special Envoy for Religious Freedom

At Long Last, U.S. Senate Unanimously Passes Bill to Create Middle East Special Envoy for Religious Freedom

Bill Passed as Situation for Religious Minorities in Middle East Deteriorates Rapidly

07/11/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) –The United States Senate has passed a bill authorizing the president to create a special envoy to promote religious freedom in the Middle East and South Central Asia. The bill, passed by unanimous consent late last night, comes as Christians and other religious minorities across the region face increasingly tight restrictions on religious beliefs and unprecedented levels of religiously motivated violence.

In a statement provided to International Christian Concern (ICC) by Senator Blunt’s office, Senator Blunt said, “As we continue to witness disturbing violence against religious minorities around the world, I’m pleased the Senate passed this bipartisan bill to show the U.S. takes religious freedom very seriously. I hope the House will pass this updated bill quickly and the president will appoint a special envoy to promote religious freedom and call attention to all persecuted religious communities in the region.” 

The special envoy will have the status of a full-fledged ambassador and is tasked with promoting the rights of religious minorities in countries such as Egypt and Pakistan, where Christians and other religious minorities face violent attacks by radical Islamic groups and potential prison time for “crimes” such as blasphemy and apostasy.

The bill’s passage in the Senate marks a major legislative victory for a wide array of faith-based and religious freedom organizations that had supported the bill’s passage in the House twice in previous years only to see it indefinitely stalled in the Senate. The most recent House version of the bill, authored by Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, was passed nearly ten months ago with wide bi-partisan support (402 for, 22 against) and the endorsement of multiple religious freedom organizations, including the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and International Christian Concern, before stalling again in the Senate until last night.  A last-minute amendment to the bill also inserted a “sunset” clause that will effectively cut off funding for the position by 2019 unless Congress passes additional legislation to reauthorize the position.

In March, Congressman Wolf wrote to President Obama, pointing out that the State Department had opposed passage of the bill in the Senate while millions of adherents to minority faiths in the Middle East were being displaced even as Secretary John Kerry endorsed the creation of a special envoy for the Arctic. Congressman Wolf then called on the president to back up his then-recent statements to Pope Francis “reaffirming that it is central to U.S. foreign policy that we protect the interests of religious minorities around the world” by acting immediately to create a special envoy for religious freedom in the Middle East and South Central Asia.

The Senate bill must now be reconciled with the House bill before it can be presented to President Obama for his signature.

ICC’s Advocacy Director, Isaac Six, said, “We are incredibly excited to see this bill finally make its way through the Senate. For years no,w the United States has failed to properly prioritize the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, where methodical, well researched studies have shown that governments place more restrictions on religious worship than in any other part of the globe and where religious minorities are experiencing violent persecution like never before. Congress has spoken almost unanimously. Now the president must respond rapidly and in kind, or risk proving that all of his statements affirming religious freedom as a central tenant of U.S. foreign policy were nothing more than hot air.”  

For interviews, please contact Isaac Six at Advocacy@persecution.org

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