WASHINGTON — Supporters unveiled a new compromise proposal Oct. 2 in a last-ditch effort to pass legislation to make opposition to religious persecution abroad a focal point of U.S. foreign policy.
The latest effort is the third legislative attempt to address the issue, which has been a running theme in Congress the past two years. Both conservative and liberal religious groups and their congressional supporters have pushed the issue, saying religious persecution in China, the Sudan, Pakistan, Russia, and elsewhere is on the increase against Christian groups and others.
Backers said that by providing a greater range of possible presidential responses to offending nations they have now met the concerns of opponents and should gain Senate passage prior to Congress' scheduled Oct. 9 adjournment.
Those options now range from a private diplomatic communication to stringent economic sanctions — a sharp departure from the first bill to address the issue in 1997, which mandated sanctions in virtually all cases.
The new bill would also create the position of State Department ambassador-at-large “as a full-time high-level, single-issue diplomat opposing religious persecution by forcefully representing American values and interests in bilateral relations with persecuting nations,” according to a congressional synopsis of the legislation.
It would also create a 10-member Commission on International Religious Liberty appointed by the Congress and the president that would investigate religious persecution incidents and make policy recommendations, and would provide for an annual State Department report on religious persecution “country by country.”
Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, N.J., in a statement on behalf of the United States Catholic Conference, said the bill “offers a practical corrective to U.S. policy in one area where that is much needed.” (RNS; See related story “Coptic Bishop Blames Brutality, Not Persecution…” on page 4.)