USA (MNN) – In the run-up to the holiday break, with very little fanfare, President Donald Trump signed reauthorization for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
It means that for the next three years, lawmakers decided to disburse over $3.5 million annually to keep the USCIRF operating until Sept. 30, 2022. They attached the bill to the 2020 omnibus spending package.
Mixing politics and religion?
Despite bitter partisan politics, enmity, and political fights, Isaac Six, Director of Advocacy at Open Doors USA, says, “USCIRF being reauthorized (the US Commission on International
Religious Freedom) is good news from our perspective. We pushed for the Commission to be reauthorized, and we worked with Senate authorizers on that bill.”
Now 21 years old, the International Religious Freedom Act creates an independent, bipartisan volunteer commission responsible for monitoring religious freedom and persecution conditions worldwide. They then make recommendations to the White House, State Department, and Congress. Tony Perkins, USCIRF Chair said:
“We’re grateful for the strong bipartisan support USCIRF received from Congress, especially from the offices of Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), James Risch (R-ID), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), who were committed to hammering out a consensus bill that enhances USCIRF’s credibility and ensures the continuance of our important work. At a time when freedom of religion is under assault worldwide, it’s encouraging that we all value the fundamental human right of allowing everyone, everywhere, to follow his or her conscience.“
Why does religious freedom matter?
The USCIRF is the only agency of its kind in the world. Six says they exist because someone has to speak up for those who don’t have a voice of their own. “It’s because of incidents like the one that took place in Nigeria over Christmas, where we saw a video of the Islamic State in West Africa Province released a video executing 11 hostages who they claim were all Christians. They said it was in revenge for the killing of the ISIS leader in Syria, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
The USCIRF speaks out against religious freedom violations worldwide that go unnoticed or under-publicized by mainstream media and other US government agencies.
“They issue an annual report; they recommend ‘Countries of Particular Concern’–so countries that have particularly egregious issues, they recommend to the State Department for possible sanctions. They’re supposed to be figuring out how we can continue to promote religious freedom,” explains Six. Many of these countries are also on the Open Doors’ World Watch List and are severe offenders of religious freedom.
Why advocate on the issue of religious freedom? Two reasons. First, the followers of Christ are one Body. As persecution grows, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:25-26,
“The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.”
Second, one of the most amazing things about living in the United States is the freedom of religion. It is one of the fundamental founding principles of our country. Strife and bloodshed commonly exist where there is no respect for freedom of religion. What’s more, conflict over religion destabilizes countries, creates economic instability, and establishes a breeding ground for even more terrorism.
Given the weight of responsibility held by members of the USCIRF, Six urges believers to pray for the commissioners. “Pray that they have wisdom. Pray that they’re able to develop relationships in Washington, not just with the White House and elsewhere, but with foreign governments.” He points out that commissioners often meet with high level foreign officials.
Pray for opportunity. “They’re there in the halls of power with some of these foreign governments, talking to people who have the ability to make a big difference. I think it’s important to pray for the commissioners.”
Headline image courtesy Marc Verch/Flickr/TrendingTopics2019/CC.