Religious Freedom Commission Faces Shutdown

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A U.S. government agency tasked with monitoring religious liberty worldwide is in danger of being shut down for good.

Congress created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, also known as USCIRF, in 1998.

The commission, operating with a $4 million budget, was formed to track religious rights issues around the world and advise the State Department.

Without reauthorization from congressional lawmakers or a short-term measure to keep it alive, the commission will cease to exist on Dec. 16.

The commission's mandate is up for reauthorization, but the legislation has been held up in the Senate.

Leonard Leo, chairman of the commission, appeared on the Dec. 9 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's "Christian World News," and spoke about the delay.

"It's been bottled up for some for some time. News reports indicate that Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois is holding the legislation because he wants to have a prison built in his home state that Republicans don't want to have built because President Obama has indicated that that prison could be used for transporting Guntanamo Bay detainees into the United States," he said.

"So there's a bit of a political football game regarding an unrelated matter. But also, frankly, it's very disconcerting that the commission has been working for months now to get reauthorization and we can't seem to get the White House and members of the Senate to engage," Leo continued.

CBN News asked the chairman what the the consequences would be if the commission is not reauthorized by Congress.

"The commission has been an extremely important watchdog with regard to the State Department to insure that they continue to make freedom of religion an important element in our foreign policy and our bilateral negotiations with foreign governments," Leo replied.

"Without USCIRF, I fear that freedom of religion won't have that same kind of attention. And I think if we're extinguished it will send a terrible, terrible signal to human rights abusing countries around the world that we don't care as much about freedom of religion as we used to," he explained.

Leo says people should contact the White House and their senators to show their support for reauthorizing the commission immediately.

--Published Dec. 9, 2011. 

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