Congressional bill seeks to strengthen religious freedom foreign policy

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SANTA ANA, Calif. — Open Doors USA—citing ongoing murders of Christians and church burnings in Nigeria, the Middle East, Northern Africa and Pakistan, among others—is advocating the passage of a new religious freedom bill.

If enacted, HR 1856 would amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 by strengthening the promotion of religious freedom in United States foreign policy and reauthorizing the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"If this bill passes, it will offer a significant advancement in religious freedom worldwide," Dr. Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, said in a news release. "It is important to urge our U.S. Representatives to vote for this bill."

In an effort to highlight the issue, Moeller was a speaker at the July 13 forum "Stop Religious Persecution Now!" The Washington, D.C. event was described as an interactive discussion for people of all faiths and targeted elected officials, leaders of the U.S. State Department and the media.

The program aimed to call attention to the persecution of various religions around the world. Delegates from numerous faith groups attended, as did congressional and administration representatives, human rights activists, media and advocates from religious freedom organizations.

"It not only focuses on Christians who face persecution, but people of all faiths who are persecuted for their beliefs," Moeller said of the conference. "Nearly every global faith is represented at this conference. We (were) able to discuss crucial issues concerning religious persecution and how to present these concerns to the media and Congress."

After the conference, the ongoing education process will focus on HR 1856, which specifically strengthens the "Countries of Particular Concern" designation process by requiring that the State Department act on designations. The language of HR 1856, will allow the International Religious Freedom office to more effectively endorse religious freedom through advocacy, reporting and programming. Additionally, all foreign-service officers would receive religious freedom training.

To elevate the status of the IRF office, the designated ambassador-at-large from that department would report directly to the Secretary of State, lending greater status to religious freedom in foreign policy. Under existing policy, the ambassador, Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, works under Michael Posner, the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor.


Lobbying legislators
Moeller—who co-wrote the book "The Privilege of Persecution"—and his team are encouraging believers and others concerned about religious freedom and Christian persecution to contact their elected representatives. Teams from Open Doors will monitor how the representatives vote and include the information as part of its 112th Open Doors Scorecard, which grades members' prioritization of international religious freedom.

Since its founding Open Doors has supported and strengthened believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers.

"HR 1856, the International Religious Freedom Amendment of 2011 Act, is one of the most important bills for the promotion of international religious freedom to be introduced," said Lindsay Vessey, advocacy director for Open Doors USA. "It is critical that HR 1856 be passed before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's funding expires in September. It is imperative that constituents let their elected officials know that religious freedom is important to them and that they campaign for religious freedom for all people of faith around the world."

According to Vessey, nearly 70 percent of the world's 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which falls on religious minorities, according to a Pew Forum study.

For more information and to send an email message urging U.S. Representatives to support and co-sponsor HR 1856, visit www.opendoorsusa.org/advocacy/amend-the-international-religious-freedom-act.


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