Thursday, December 22, 2011

Whither America on Religious Freedom? -- UPDATE

By Elizabeth Kendal

USCIRF SURVIVES, BUT IS EVISCERATED


As Emily Belz reports for World Magazine (16 Dec 2011): "After four months of struggle, Congress approved the reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, hours before the commission was set to shut down. The House approved the final reauthorization of USCIRF by a voice vote Friday (16 Dec), in a bill that will reduce the commission’s budget and remove most of the current commissioners."

For background see previous post:
Whither America on Religious Freedom? 8 Dec 2011

That Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill. could essentially take a bill hostage by means of a secret procedural "hold" after it had passed in the U.S. House of Representative by a vote of 391-21 (15 Sept 2011), and then play games with it in order to advance an agenda, is astonishing and profoundly undemocratic. To ensure that there would be a high degree of desperation and no time for debate, Durbin waited until the 11th hour before releasing his "hold" on H.R. 2867 (the bill reauthorising funding for the USCIRF) and introducing his amendment S.AMDT. 1461, which limits commissioners to two-year terms.

When Congress voted on Friday 16 Dec, the legislators essentially had no option other than to pass Durbin's amendment or see the USCIRF close.

Congressman Frank Wolf, R-Va., slammed Durbin's move charging that it essentially amounted to "blackmail", while Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. condemned the amendment as "bad".

As it was, the original reauthorisation Bill cut the USCIRF's funding from $4 million to $3 million and reduced the number of commissioners (all unpaid) from nine to five. With Durbin's amendment, seven of the nine current commissioners will be permanently forced out. As Southern Baptist minister Reverend Richard Land laments, the effect of the amendment will be to leave the USCIRF with "very little institutional memory".

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On the surface this looked like basic political pork-barrelling by a rogue Senator. However, on closer inspection it looks more like premeditated strategic manoeuvring with one of the intended outcomes being the evisceration of the USCIRF.

Senator Durbin's alleged reason for placing a procedural "hold" on H.R. 2867, was that he wanted to "force members of the House of Representatives into earmarking funds for the federal government to purchase a state prison in Thompson, Illinois that his home state can no longer afford to operate". (Gaffney)

Frank Gaffney, Jr., the President of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for the Washington Times, writes: "When the idea of a federal takeover of this facility was first floated last year, it ran into strenuous opposition on both sides of Capitol Hill. Not only was the deal deemed to be unaffordable at a time of yawning federal deficits. It turned out that the Obama administration and its allies in Illinois' Democratic machine in Washington and Springfield state had in mind another, even more outrageous motivation: the Thompson prison could serve as the place to relocate terrorists currently held offshore at Guantanamo Bay, allowing Gitmo's closure.

"In other words, Sen. Durbin is seeking to secure by stealth an earmark that would overturn existing legislation barring the relocation of such detainees inside the United States - and the real risk that they would, thereby, be granted constitutional rights, access to civilian U.S. courts and perhaps be set loose in our country by irresponsible federal judges."

See: Silencing the Watchdogs of Religious Freedom: Durbin's War on the USCIRF
Center for Security Policy | Dec 12, 2011
By Frank Gaffney, Jr.

Be that as it may, why did Durbin suddenly release the bill even though he had failed to secure the ransom? And if Durbin was simply accepting defeat on the matter of Thompson prison, how come the bill (his hostage) came back with an amendment attached?

According to Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., "There are people who are trying to kill this commission."

Reporting for World Magazine, Emily Belz writes (15 Dec): "Smith said President Bill Clinton opposed the creation of the commission and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doesn't want it around now, either. The State Department hasn't undertaken many of the commission's recommendations in recent years . . .

"'Religious freedom is not a priority' at the State Department, said Smith. 'Homosexual rights and abortion rights' are priorities, he said, referring to the Obama administration's recent push to put gay rights at the top of its global human rights agenda."

According to Gaffney, "the Obama administration has been working behind the scenes to do as its Islamist friends have demanded by shutting down the USCIRF. It has enlisted for this purpose Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate's Number 2 Democrat. Sen. Durbin is not only perfectly placed to do the deed stealthily. He has his own close associations with a number of the Brotherhood's top fronts and operatives in his home state of Illinois, in Washington and elsewhere across the country. . ."

That the highest levels of the US administration could be complicit in the evisceration of the USCIRF is very disturbing. It will be interesting to see who the administration appoints to fill the USCIRF's vacancies. If the new commissioners do not come with considerable experience in international religious liberty, then, though the USCIRF might survive, it will have been rendered harmless (harmless, that is, to religious liberty abusers) and non-threatening (non-threatening, that is, to economically and geo-strategically beneficial but morally compromising alliances).

ISOLATED INCIDENTS OR A TREND?

As noted in the previous posting, when the Obama administration recently appointed the popular and immensely gifted Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook to the post of US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom -- after a lengthy delay -- it was praised for finally filling the post, thereby affirming America's commitment to international religious freedom. This was despite the fact that the appointee had absolutely no experience in international religious freedom. In no other field would such a thing be tolerated.

As I have previously noted, when it comes to dealing with the propaganda and religio-political ideologies and strategies that threaten religious liberty both domestically and internationally, lack of religious liberty background puts the cause of religious liberty at a serious disadvantage.

In the light of this, the machinations surrounding the reauthorisation of funding for the USCIRF provide me with an uneasy sense of déjà vu.

Is the Obama administration intentionally and strategically disempowering international religious liberty advocacy because, while it wants to appear domestically to be supportive of it, in reality, it doesn't want to be embarrassed internationally by it?

By retaining the religious freedom bodies, the form or appearance of international religious freedom advocacy is maintained for the purpose of public relations and propaganda. But by filling these bodies with appointees who, despite their gifts and graces, have little or no experience in dealing with the religio-political complexities inherent in international religious liberty advocacy, they render those bodies ineffective, or worse.

How does the administration get away with it? Well, if the administration can hold the sword of Damocles over the heads of religious freedom advocacy bodies for long enough, then for mere life all will be immensely grateful!

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The reality is, when powerful alliances and/or big money and /or geo-strategic gains are involved, there is nothing more inconvenient than an informed, experienced and passionate dedicated religious freedom advocate who is absolutely committed to shattering the deadly silence.

Christians should pray for Rev Suzan Johnson Cook -- the Obama-appointed US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom -- that she might learn quickly, be gifted with discernment and wisdom, and have the courage to be the most inconvenient Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom America has ever known!

Likewise, Christians should pray that when the Obama administration appoints new commissioners to the USCIRF in the next few months, they will prove to be the most inconvenient religious liberty advocates imaginable!

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21 ESV)

As violent persecution escalates and impunity becomes the order of the day, the last thing the persecuted need is to be left to suffer in darkness under a shroud of silence.