On Tuesday, March 22, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced a short and simple piece of legislation “to reauthorize the independent, bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) through fiscal year 2024.”
Grounds for passing the bill are clear and compelling. “Tragically, many around the world are deprived of this fundamental protection. Christians in Nigeria, Nicaragua, and Cuba, Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, Buddhists in Tibet, and many more risk persecution and even death because of their beliefs,” said Senator Marco Rubio (FL), who led the introduction of the bill. “[USCIRF] plays a critical role in shining a light on religious freedom violations worldwide. I’m proud to lead my colleagues in this bipartisan effort so that men and women across the globe are free to safely and peacefully worship.”
Created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, USCIRF is a bipartisan commission that monitors the right to freedom of religion internationally. Its commissioners are appointed by bipartisan leadership from both chambers of Congress and the president.
As part of its mandate, USCIRF issues an Annual Report that 1) recommends countries for the U.S. State Department’s Country of Particular Concern and Special Watch List designations, 2) provides policy recommendations, and 3) assesses the effectiveness of the State Department’s efforts to promote international religious freedom.
USCIRF has a vital role as an entity exclusively focused on protecting and advancing religious freedom for everyone, everywhere.
As RFI noted with the release of the 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF serves as “a valuable resource for both government and non-government entities concerned with these issues.” In addition to its annual report, USCIRF also highlights particular countries and issues through hearings, reports, and publications such as Algeria’s Increasing Hostility Towards Religious Minorities (interview with Miles Windsor), The Impact of Majoritarianism on Religious Minorities in South Asia (interview with Farahnaz Ispahani), and Iraq’s Beleaguered Religious Minority Communities (interview with Jeremy Barker).
Given the strong support from senior Senate leadership, the full Senate should move quickly to extend USCIRF’s authorization and funding.
The six senators jointly introducing the bill include the Chairman and Ranking Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sens. Bob Menendez (NJ) and James Risch (ID), along with Sen. Chris Coons (DE), chairman of the Subcommittee On Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy and Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee On Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, and Sens. Dick Durbin (IL), Chair of the Judiciary Committee, and James Lankford (OK), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management.