.- The chairman of a federal commission that promotes religious freedom warned that if Congress does not reauthorize the group by next week, international results could be “catastrophic.”
Chairman Leonard Leo called it “absolutely shameful” that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has still not been reauthorized after months of discussion.
Leo told CNA on Dec. 9 that a failure to reauthorize the commission would send the message that the U.S. has “downgraded the importance of religious freedom in our foreign policy.”
Funding for the commission was initially set to expire at the end of September but received multiple brief extensions—including one that was part of a “minibus” spending bill signed into law on Nov. 18—that have allowed it to continue its work.
However, the commission’s latest extension will expire on Dec. 16, which will cause it to shut down completely if Congress does not renew its funding and reauthorize its mission.
Although the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that would extend the commission’s funding for two more years, the process has been tied up in the Senate since September.
It was initially reported that a single anonymous senator had placed a “hold” on the bill, preventing it from coming to a vote, for undisclosed reasons.
That senator has now been identified as Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). An individual involved in the situation said that Senator Durbin has put a hold on the funding until federal money is approved to buy a state prison in Illinois, which he claims will bring money and jobs to the area.
As the Senate majority whip, Senator Durbin is the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate.
The Obama administration told Fox News on Dec. 8 that it is working with Congress to reauthorize the commission, but with just a week before the Dec. 16 deadline, commission staff members are beginning to wrap up their operations.
Leo acknowledged the possibility that another temporary extension for the commission could be passed as part of an omnibus budget resolution.
But ultimately, he explained, the commission needs to be reauthorized since it cannot operate effectively with the threat of being shut down constantly lingering.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is the “only commission of its kind in the world,” Leo said. He explained that by identifying problems, reporting on them and serving as a watchdog, the commission has both directly and indirectly had a positive impact on countries around the world since it was created in 1998.
The commission advises the president, secretary of state and congress on how to bolster religious freedom overseas.
It presents an annual report on religious freedom across the globe and recommends that certain countries which tolerate “particularly severe” violations of religious liberty be designated as “countries of particular concern.”
If the commission is forced to close its doors, said Leo, other countries that have been considering forming similar commissions may be dissuaded.
It would send a dangerous message to countries that abuse human rights, he added, showing them that religious freedom is “not a priority” for the United States any longer.
Quote: "It would send a dangerous message to countries that abuse human rights, he added, showing them that religious freedom is “not a priority” for the United States any longer"
.- A U.S. federal commission that works to support religious freedom around the world was reauthorized Dec. 16 by Congress through 2018, just hours before it was scheduled to go out of existence.
In a statement after the U.S. House vote on Dec. 16, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) described the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as “a beacon of hope” for those whose religious liberty is under attack.
“These individuals long to have their plight known and their cause championed,” he said, adding that he was “grateful” that Congress recognized the importance of the commission’s work.
Congressman Wolf co-authorized the legislation that created the commission in 1998, to call attention to religious liberty violations around the world.
The commission advises the president, U.S. Congress and State Department on the status of international religious freedom.
It presents an annual report on religious liberty abusers and recommends that specific countries which tolerate “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom be designated as “countries of particular concern.”
The commission’s funding was originally set to expire at the end of September, but a series of brief extensions was granted by Congress over the next three months, allowing it to continue its work for a few weeks at a time.
The latest extension was set to expire at 5 p.m. on Dec. 16. The commission had already begun winding down operations so it could close its doors by the end of the day, before it was reauthorized by Congress on the morning of Dec. 16.
Commission chairman Leonard Leo told CNA on Dec. 9 that reauthorization was necessary for the commission to continue to function properly.
He explained that the temporary extensions had made it difficult for the commission to operate effectively because the threat of being shut down was always imminent.
The House of Representatives had approved a bill to reauthorize the commission in September, but the process was stalled for months because Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate, reportedly placed a secret hold on it, preventing it from coming to a vote in the Senate.
Durbin finally allowed the bill to come to a vote on Dec. 13, after amending it to place a two-year limit on commissioners and putting them under the same travel restrictions as employees of the Department of State.
The reauthorization bill was unanimously approved by the Senate. Although several members of the House objected to the late addition of Durbin’s amendments, they accepted the legislation on Dec. 16 to save the commission from going out of existence at the end of the day.
Rep. Wolf said the commission’s work of speaking out against religious freedom abuses is “of the utmost importance.”
He commended the commission for its work to highlight abuses in countries such as Sudan, Pakistan and China, and emphasized the severity of the ongoing battle for religious freedom.
He referenced a recent study indicating that about 70 percent of the world’s population lives in a country with significant religious liberty restrictions.
Rep. Wolf stated that the reauthorization “sends a clear message” that international religious freedom remains “a U.S. foreign policy priority.”
December 20, 2011
Dear Mrs. Anderson,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the meaning of Christmas. I can't effectively serve as
your voice in the House of Representatives without knowing what matters most
to you, so I appreciate you reaching out to me on this issue.
As you know, Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO) introduced H. Res. 489, which
expresses the sense of the House that the symbols and traditions of Christmas
should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.
This bill has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and
As a Christian, I depend upon God's guidance every day and feel
that I have a responsibility to protect Christian values in the United States.
Christmas is a holiday of great significance to Americans and many
other cultures and nationalities, and I fully support recognizing this
time of year as the Christmas season, not the Holiday season.
As such, should H. Res. 489 come to the House floor for a vote,
rest assured that I will proudly and whole-heartedly support this resolution.
Thank you again for voicing your concerns.
I hope you will continue to reach out to me about the many
issues facing our nation. To that end, you can find all of my contact information on my
signing up for my weekly newsletter, "the SITREP," if you haven't already done so.