Back in President Bill Clinton's second term, Congress created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, tasked with monitoring religious liberty around the world and, in annual reports, highlighting the progress (or, more likely, lack of progress) various countries are making in this area.
I thought it was a good move at the time and believe that over the years it has done good work. If I have a criticism it is that Congress and the executive branch often pay little or no attention to the commission's findings and, therefore, don't place enough emphasis on making sure that it's the policy of the U.S. government to advocate religious liberty as one of the foundational human rights around the world.
In recent weeks and months, however, the bipartisan cooperation that has allowed the USCIRF to do its work effectively appears to be threatened by changes proposed in a bill meant to reauthorize the commission's existence.
As the AP reports, the reauthorization bill "would ask the commission to review 'the abuse of religion to justify human rights violations' — a responsibility not defined in more detail — and restrict commissioners from using their federal title when they speak as private citizens. Additionally, commissioners would have to report to Congress on international travel paid for by sources outside their families or the government.
"In a capital often dominated by partisan polarization, those proposed changes created a rare division: senators in both parties seeking increased oversight, and commissioners in both parties balking."
What most concerns me about this matter is that the USCIRF, despite the appointment of commissioners who think quite differently from one another about religious liberty, has remained an effective organization because it has remained bipartisan in approach. It hasn't fallen prey to the vicious partisan divisions that have turned much of our federal government malignant.
Whatever the solution is for the reauthorization, the result must not be one more agency dissolving into gridlock because of partisan politics. That would be the worst thing for religious freedom around the globe.
If you agree, let your member of Congress know.
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THE GROWING WORK OF CHAPLAINS
Does it seem to you as if you're meeting more chaplains nowadays? Why would that be? This RNS story has one answer: ". . .as fewer people identify with a specific religion or attend religious services, Americans may be more likely to meet a chaplain than a local clergy person at a congregation. That’s why the newly formed Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, aims to explore how chaplains are adapting to their changing circumstances." Chaplains often do terrific work. If you know one, say thanks.