10/02/2019 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Senator Marco Rubio recently introduced the long-awaited bill to reauthorize the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). USCIRF monitors the condition of religious freedom around the world and publishes an annual report of their findings. The Commission was created in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which also created the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom at the Department of State, a position currently occupied by former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. USCIRF Commissioners also serve as vocal advocates on behalf of prisoners of conscience, using their platform as Commissioners to raise awareness of their plight and mistreatment–a much needed role.
While the bill itself reauthorizes the Commission for an additional 4 years with an added 1 million dollars to their annual budget, several substantive changes are imposed on the Commission by the current version of the bill.
First, Commissioners would serve a single, non-renewable, three-year term. In addition, the Commission’s current approach of staggering Commissioner terms would be eliminated in favor of an approach that cycles all Commissioners through on the same schedule.
Second, the reauthorization bill as it stands today requires Commissioners to regularly report to Congress on a variety of specific matters, a move designed to increase USCIRF transparency and accountability. It also creates a number of rules around the public speaking roles of Commissioners by requiring that all public speeches and statements be circulated among other Commissioners and key staff. In addition, the reauthorization bill mandates a number of other reforms that would significantly alter the Commission’s current construction.
According to Sunshine State News, Senator Rubio said, “USCIRF plays an important role in highlighting religious freedom violations and advancing religious liberty around the globe, including by providing key recommendations to Congress. I look forward to seeing this Commission reauthorized and fulling its important mission.”
His sentiments were reinforced by Ranking Member Senator Menendez. Again, Sunshine State News quotes him as saying that “religious freedom is a fundamental human right, which U.S. foreign policy champions. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom plays a worthy role in this effort.”
The reauthorization bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for further review. A similar bill is needed in the house as well, but no such legislation has yet been introduced.
USCIRF’s latest authorization expired at the end of September 2019, a week and a half after Rubio introduced his bill in the Senate.
With substantial changes to the structure of the Commission, it is yet to be seen if the reauthorization works for or against the vitally important mission of the Commission.
Matias Perttula currently serves as the Advocacy Director for International Christian Concern where he leads the government relations efforts to mobilize the US government to address issues of persecution in countries where religious minorities are oppressed and the freedom of religion is in decline.