WASHINGTON, December 12, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A commission that religious rights leaders call a critical watchdog against persecution worldwide is shutting its doors thanks to a lack of funding under the Obama administration.
Leaders of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) began taking steps to shut down the office after being advised by the Government Services Administration to do so. Although the Obama administration has said it would work to reauthorize the commission, a measure to do so has stalled in the Senate following House passage due to a block by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), according to reports.
The House measure to reauthorize the commission had passed overwhelmingly in a 391-21 vote.
If the spending measure containing USCIRF’s reauthorization is not signed into law by Dec. 16, the commission will close.
USCIRF commissioners last Tuesday pleaded with the administration to let their work, which they say is unique on the international stage, continue. “It remains our most fervent hope that the Commission will be reauthorized, so that it can continue its vital work in advising the President, the Congress, and the Secretary of State,” stated a cover letter to their resolution preparing for shutdown to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Chairman Leonard Leo called it “absolutely shameful” that the commission is on the path to shutdown, saying that the move would “signal to the world that the United States is retreating from the cause of religious freedom.”
Many religious rights leaders have expressed dismay at the end of a commission that has been an indispensible advocate for persecuted religious minorities.
“It would be a catastrophe for religious freedom and human rights around the world if USCIRF were to be defunded and go out of business,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a USCIRF commissioner, according to BP News. “It would send a terrible signal to persecutors and human rights abusers around the world that the government of the United States is no longer as interested in defending those they victimize as it has been in the past.”
Since its inception under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, the bipartisan body has advised the White House and other branches of the U.S. government on the status of religious freedom overseas, and branded some regimes as particularly offensive for their violations against religious freedom.
The commission has been unafraid to contradict State Department priorities, and has called out President Obama for failing to condemn certain countries, such as Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and Vietnam, which have persecuted and even killed Christians on the basis of their faith.
Read the full CNS report here.
Read the full BP report here.