Bipartisan Bill Provides Four-Year Authorization for Commission on International Religious Freedom
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today applauded the unanimous passage by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of their bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for four years.
The deficit neutral bill provides $3.5 million in annual funding, requires a strategic planning process to reinforce bipartisanship among commissioners and strengthens ongoing congressional oversight while preserving the commission’s independence.
“At a time when religious minorities are facing severe persecution in many places around the world, long-term reauthorization of the commission will ensure our country continues to play a vital leadership role in defending religious freedoms throughout the world, which also leads to safer and more civil societies,” said Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This legislation strengthens ongoing oversight from Congress and provides important certainty and reforms to help ensure the commission’s work is independent. I appreciate Senators Cardin, Rubio and Durbin for their valuable contributions to this legislation that will protect religious liberties wherever they are threatened.”
“This commission was created to advise Congress and the Administration about how the United States can most effectively protect religious freedom around the globe. This legislation will foster bipartisan consensus and discourage excessive partisanship in order to help achieve that goal,” said Durbin. “I’m proud to be part of a bipartisan group of senators committed to getting this done.”
“It is significant that on this day, as lawmakers gathered to listen to Pope Francis speak about compassion and collaboration, tolerance and acceptance, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously reauthorized the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The bill was the outcome of an extended review of the Commission and its operations. It includes provisions to strengthen USCIRF and ensure increased cooperation and bipartisanship. USCIRF will be able to independently assess and effectively describe the threats to religious freedom, documenting the horrific abuses and cases of bigotry being witnesses across the globe. I was proud to work with Chairman Corker, Senator Durbin, and Senator Rubio on this issue and I thank them for their dedication and tremendous effort to this legislation," said Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who also serves as the Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance for Organization Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly.
“Religious freedom is under assault globally, and the U.S. must step up to defend it,” Rubio said. “Attacks on houses of worship, imprisonment and even death are daily realities for people of faith around the world, especially for religious minorities in the Middle East who face a genocidal onslaught.
“The commission has been a steadfast champion of this ‘first freedom’ and a reliable voice for the oppressed and marginalized,” Rubio added. “I welcome this four year authorization which would allow the commission to focus, without distraction, on their critical mandate at precisely the time it’s most needed.”
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan commission dedicated to defending the freedom of religion worldwide. The commission is tasked with independently assessing and describing threats to religious freedom around the world and to help ensure that U.S. efforts to advance religious freedom abroad are timely, appropriate to the circumstances, and effective. The commission provides policy recommendations in an annual report to the president, the secretary of State, and the Congress. To improve ongoing congressional oversight, this legislation also requires the commission to submit a written strategic plan to Congress within six months that includes: a description of prioritized actions for a period of time specified by the commissioners; any changes in the content and timing of the annual report; any needed personnel changes; a budget for implementing its plan; and any other unresolved issues.
A copy of the bill text is accessible here.