WASHINGTON, DC – The passage of the FY2020 Federal spending bill on December 19th ensures government funding for the US Commission on International Religious Freedom for another three years. Congress must re-approve funding of the USCIRF before the 2023 fiscal year.
Although many government programs are included in the $1.4 trillion package, the USCIRF came under scrutiny this year as it would have ceased to function without continued funding.
Several senators introduced a stand-alone bill in the Senate that would have extended the reauthorization for four years. The commissioners, however, considered the proposal unacceptable, fearing the changes would transform them “from watchdogs to lapdogs.” One commissioner, Kristina Arriaga, resigned during negotiations saying the proposed changes would render her to “no longer be an effective advocate for religious freedom.”
Chairman Tony Perkins described the bill as “Congress micromanaging this independent agency.” Senator Rubio eventually withdrew the bill after meeting unanticipated opposition. Perkins clarified that he was not opposed to more accountability, but “I’m talking about micromanaging to the point where operating procedures are in the statutes.”
Former commissioner Faith McDonnell, the Director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, observed that the proposed changes, “Don’t seem to be provisions that make the USCRIF more effective. They’re provisions that domesticize it and cripple it. Instead of being a lion, it’s a housecat.”
The debate continued until a compromise was reached that included an additional 12 pages of “reauthorization language” in the spending package. The agreement primarily accepted several oversight requirements for travel and “public engagement.”
Meanwhile, the commission thanked the State Department for confirming its nine recommendations naming Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) and for placing seven countries on a Special Watch List (SWL).
The countries the State Department designated as CPCs are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
The countries on the SWL are Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Russia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
The USCIRF Vice Chair, Gayle Manchin, reminded the State Department that it needs to do more than pay lip service to matters of international religious freedom.
“Now that these designations have been made, the State Department must take strong action in response, as required by IRFA. We urge the State Department to fully utilize the range of tools available to ensure strong consequences for the most egregious violators, and not rely on waivers or pre-existing sanctions. The CPC-designated countries must know that the United States will not only call them out but also impose costs for violations of this most sacred right.”
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- Christian Telegraph, US international religious freedom commission reauthorized, with strings
- USCIRF, USCIRF Welcomes the State Department’s Designations of the World’s Worst Violators of Religious Freedom
- Christian Headlines, Omnibus Budget to Fund U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for Three More Years
- World Magazine, Religious freedom panel gets reauthorization