Is the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom an advocate for global religious freedom or an expensive government patronage machine?
Tobin Grant at Christianity Today says it is being held hostage and that the Commission is an independent agency in the State Department that monitors religious persecution around the globe and makes policy recommendations to the President and the Secretary of State. It was created in 1998.
The USCIRF was created 13 years ago as part of the International Religious Freedom Act. Today, the USCIRF remains a small commission that investigates violations of religious freedom internationally and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress. The commission is independent of the State Department. It is a low-budget operation, with just a three million dollar budget and no renumeration for its commissioners. The commissioners are approved by White House, Senate, and House leaders from both parties.
The USCIRF is one of two offices created in 1998 to monitor religious freedom. The Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) is part of the State Department. The USCIRF was formed as an independent commission, though one of its nine commissioners is the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
Joseph Griebosky at the Huffington Post says it is time to pull the plug.
He says that the commission does not represent religious minorities who are the most common victims of religious persecution, but does represent religious groups who are able to get appointments. Also, the commission largely parrots the work of the State Department itself.
Supporters of USIRF argue that eliminating the Commission would have a twofold effect: it would (1) eliminate a necessary watchdog over the actions of the State Department and (2) send a bad message to countries around the world that have not traditionally respected religious freedom as a human right that the U.S. Government no longer considers religious freedom to be a priority.
These arguments are specious. Offices in the Department of State such as the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons have been tremendously effective without oversight from a separate, outside commission. Besides, under the Constitution of the United States, Congress can and should provide oversight for Executive offices through hearings and investigations.
Moreover, reforms to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 currently pending in Congress would elevate the IRF Office at State by having it report directly to the Under Secretary for Democracy & Global Affairs, thus signaling to countries around the world that religious freedom continues to be a significant priority for U.S. foreign policy.
The measure to extend funding was opposed in the house by GOP “tea party caucus” members and been placed on hold in the Senate by Senator Dick Durban (D-IL).