Congress Sets New Deadline For Funding of Religious Freedom Body

Bipartisan watchdog agency plays "vital global role," says IRLA deputy secretary general

A temporary funding bill, passed November 17, allows the US Commission on International Religious Freedom to continue operating for another month while Congress considers the future of this bipartisan body charged with advising the US government on current issues of religious freedom. So far, agreement in Congress has proved elusive—a two-year funding bill for USCIRF was passed by the House last month, but stalled in the Senate.

The key issues of contention relate to budget—which some in Congress want to slash significantly—and a proposal to reduce the number of commissioners who would be appointed to the body.

USCIRF was created by Congress 13 years ago to promote religious freedom overseas, and it operates as an independent, bi-partisan organization that investigates and reports on global religious freedom violations. Since its inception, USCIRF has worked to keep the US State Department, the White House, and Congress up to date on current religious freedom issues. At times, though, the body has also generated controversy—either through accusations that it’s too focused on Christian victims of persecution or that it lacks sufficient oversight and accountability to Congress.

In spite of its past difficulties, USCIRF has a vital role in keeping the religious freedom violations before US policymakers, according to Attorney Dwayne Leslie, IRLA deputy secretary general. “We’re hopeful that Congress will soon pass a reauthorization bill that will ensure the long-term survival of this important body,” he says. [Bettina Krause/IRLA]