Discussion Question: How Involved Should The United States Be In Issues Of International Religious Freedom?
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Its principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations. It is currently under review for re-authorization. How important is it to continue to support this body? Is the U.S. overstepping its authority by monitoring the state of religious freedom outside its borders? Should we be concentrating our resources and efforts here at home?
On the surface this is a no brainer: Anyone who values freedom of conscience should wish that there were more entities like the Commission dedicated to protecting religious freedom. The fact that since the Obama Administration has been in office the Commission has languished should trouble many. The fact that Congress seems so loathe to fund it at all and apparently ready to cut the number of commissioners from its historic nine to as few as five makes one wonder if they have confused it with the Supreme Court – a body not a few legislators might de-fund if they could!
I was part of a White House led discussion recently where the Commission was discussed at length. Without giving anything away, I can assure you that those in the administration charged with caring for religious freedom want the Commission up and running and fulfilling its various functions.
What gives me some pause, though, is the fact that the Commission only advises, and is essentially a state funded, non-administrative body. In essence, it can as easily provide cover for inaction as spur official policy. It still troubles me that on the Commission’s watch, in fact as reported by the Commission, both Iraq and Afghanistan birthed new constitutions that specifically make all law subject to the Koran. Hardly separation of church and state! And while it might have been thought too much to follow invasion with constitutional compulsion, one would have thought U.S. influence at the time sufficient to at least get religious liberty friendly constitutions.
I do hope the Commission is re-authorized and re-funded. We need it. But I also hope the State Department will step up and hold a consistent view on religious freedom, as opposed to a freedom of worship mantra that is a bridge not far enough. These are difficult times, to be sure. The mere reauthorization of this body should reassure many around the world that the U.S has not yet forgotten it history and its Constitution.
Author: Lincoln E. Steed
Editor, Liberty Magazine
Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."