Uncertain Future for Key Religious Freedom Body

"This is no time for the US government to reduce its support for the protection of religious freedom," says IRLA Deputy Secretary

Political back-and-forth continues to plague efforts to reauthorize funding of the bipartisan Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)—a body created by Congress in 1998 to advise the State Department, the President, and Congress about current religious freedom issues.

Although a two-year funding bill—which slashed USCRIF’s annual budget from $4 to $3 million—was passed by the House last week, it stalled in the Senate. A stop-gap measure has extended funding until November 18, but substantive action by Congress is needed to ensure the long-term survival of USCRIF.

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.

“Regardless of past difficulties, USCIRF remains an important institution, and one that plays a much-needed role in keeping global religious freedom concerns before US policy makers,” says Attorney Dwayne Leslie, IRLA deputy secretary general. “We’re continuing work with other supporters of USCIRF to urge Congress take up this matter before funding runs out.”

“There is no doubt that religious persecution is on the rise globally,” adds Mr. Leslie. "This is no time for the US government to reduce its support for the protection of religious freedom."  [Bettina Krause/IRLA]