U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women's Issues, today celebrated the Senate's passage of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Reauthorization Act.
The legislation was introduced Thursday by Rubio and Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD) prior to being passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by voice vote, and passed unanimously by the full Senate today. This bill now awaits passage by the U.S. House of Representatives before being sent to President Obama to become law. Rubio introduced his own version of the bill earlier this year, which was supported by stakeholders in a letter earlier this month.
"Religious freedom is under assault globally," Rubio said. "Attacks on houses of worship, imprisonment and even death are daily realities for people of faith around the world. This is especially true for religious minorities in the Middle East who are facing a genocidal onslaught.
"The Commission has been a steadfast champion of this "first freedom' and a reliable voice for the oppressed and marginalized," Rubio added. "I welcome this 4-year authorization which would allow them to focus, without distraction, on their critical mandate at precisely the time its most needed."
"Senate passage of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's reauthorization would never have been possible if not for the longstanding and valiant leadership of Senator Marco Rubio," said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission who signed the letter supporting Rubio's bill. "Against many obstacles, Senator Rubio fought for the protection of religious freedom around the world, and I am grateful for his leadership on this from start to finish."
The deficit neutral, bipartisan bill provides $3.5 million in annual funding, requires a strategic planning process to reinforce bipartisanship among commissioners and strengthens ongoing congressional oversight while preserving the commission's independence.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan commission dedicated to defending the freedom of religion worldwide. This legislation charges the commission with independently assessing and describing threats to religious freedom around the world and to help ensure that U.S. efforts to advance religious freedom abroad are timely, appropriate to the circumstances, and effective. The commission provides policy recommendations in an annual report to the president, the secretary of State, and the Congress. This legislation also requires the commission to submit a written strategic plan to Congress within six months that includes: a description of prioritized actions for a period of time specified by the commissioners; any changes in the content and timing of the annual report; any needed personnel changes; a budget for implementing its plan; and any other unresolved issues.