By Bob Allen
Legislation reauthorizing a bipartisan committee that advises the State Department on violations of religious liberty in other countries passed both houses of Congress Oct. 6 and is headed to the president for final approval.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, established by a law signed by President Clinton in 1998, was set to expire Sept. 30 until President Obama signed a continuing resolution authorizing the program until Dec. 11 while Congress debates a budget.
A compromise between Democrats and Republicans ended a deadlock, reauthorizing the commission until 2019. Faith groups including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention lobbied for passage of bills reauthorizing the USCIRF in both the House and Senate.
Created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the commission is composed of appointees by the president and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and House of Representatives. Its primary duties include reviewing the facts and circumstances of international violations of religious liberty and make policy recommendations to the White House and Congress.
Reauthorization this time stalled over major changes originally sought by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who argued the state of religious freedom around the world is worse now than when the commission was established.