.- Catholics and other advocates are urging Congress and the White House not to let partisan politics to put an end to the vital work of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
âThe reality is that thereâs a global crisis in religious freedom,â said Dr. Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.
âCongress is being irresponsible and so is the administration,â Farr told CNA on Oct. 18.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by Congress in 1998.
With funding set to expire at the end of September, the House of Representatives on Sept. 15 voted overwhelmingly, 391-21, to fund the agency for two more years.
However, according to press reports, a single unknown senator has put a âholdâ on the bill, preventing it from coming to a vote in the Senate. The anonymous senator is not disclosing any reason for his actions.
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Instituteâs Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, said that if the âsecret holdâ is not lifted by Nov. 18, the Senate will not be able to act, and the commission will come to an end.
Shea has served as one of the commissioners for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom since 1999.
In an Oct. 17 article for the National Review Online, Shea described the commission as âa bold voice within the governmentâ and pointed to its successful advocacy for religious minorities in countries including Sudan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Shea said that the commissionâs âbiggest contribution may simply be representing in the darkest, most closed corners of the world Americaâs bedrock belief â the individualâs inalienable right to religious freedom.â
Farr believes that the situation is also clearly a humanitarian problem, given that tens of millions of people are âsubject to violent persecution because of their religious beliefs or those of their tormentors.â
Farr, who served as the first director of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom from 1999 to 2003, added that there was also a beneficial âstrategic dimensionâ to Americaâs religious freedom policy.
He explained âthat to promote religious freedom is to help democracies consolidate. And to promote religious freedom is to undermine religion-based terrorism.â
âSo on both of those accounts â humanitarian and strategic â this is precisely the wrong time in history to allow the commission to be disbanded, or in fact, to disband it,â he said.
Farr also observed that attempts to weaken the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have already taken place.
He noted that the bill to reauthorize the commission originally included amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act that would have âforced the State Department to pay more attention to this issue.â
âThose amendments have been stripped from the bill,â he stated.
Farr explained that one of the amendments that has been removed would have moved the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom to the office of the Secretary of State, âwhich is where, historically, all other ambassadors-at-large have been.â
He said that this move would have shown the governmentâs commitment to the issue of religious freedom across the globe.
Farr attributed the opposition to extending the life of the commission to âabsolute indifference to the crisis which is going on in the world.â
âI can think of no other explanation for it,â he said.
âCongress could reauthorize the commission and compel the Obama administration to take this issue seriously. Congress is doing neither.â