Newsletter: Rahall Report - Religious Freedom as a Human Right


Religious freedom is the bedrock on which our Nation is founded. It's what brought the English pilgrims to our shores, and was first in the rights codified by the Founding Fathers in our U.S. Constitution.

As Americans, we are free to bend a knee in prayer and practice our faith without fear of persecution. It is one of the many things about America that makes us exceptional.

In other parts of the world, as the U.S. State Department details in its most recent International Religious Freedom Report and Congressional testimony, a very different reality exists.

In Saudi Arabia, the public practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited.

In Sudan, the government prohibits conversion from Islam to any other religion. Churches cannot be built without a permit, and churches opened without a permit are closed and demolished.

In Egypt, organized groups attack churches and Christian-owned homes and businesses and then loot and torch the properties.

In Iraq and Syria, Christians and religious minority groups in regions occupied by Islamic State militants are living under a reign of terror. Churches have been occupied and looted and cherished religious artifacts have been destroyed.

Conquering militants have forced Christians to convert or leave their ancestral homes. There have been reports that Christians unable to flee due to disability or illness are taken to mosques and forced to convert to Islam.

Those who refuse to leave or convert are subjected to the most appalling atrocities -- abduction, rape, torture, and mass executions.

As a Member of the International Religious Freedom Caucus, I believe that religious freedom is a human right that should be promoted as a core element of U.S. foreign policy.

Toward that end, I have supported providing the State Department with the resources and mandate to promote religious freedom worldwide and sanction governments that violate their citizens' human rights.

I have supported the bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal government agency that monitors violations of religious freedom and recommends action in response to abuses. H.R. 4653, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act, which the House of Representatives recently approved, with my support, would reauthorize the Commission for the next five years.

I also am a cosponsor of legislation, which the House of Representatives approved, to establish a Special Envoy to promote religious freedom of religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.

Of course, our Nation is most inspiring when it leads by example.

In sponsoring a Constitutional Amendment to support voluntary prayer in school, and in supporting a House resolution to support prayer at the beginning of legislative and public meetings, including school board meetings, I believe that I am speaking for many West Virginians who want to ensure, proudly and publicly, that their right to worship as they choose is not abridged.

This value, for which Americans have bled and died on the battlefield, must be represented to the rest of the world as a core tenet of who we are as a Nation. Our commitment to religious freedom requires us to condemn the terrorist groups and repressive governments that deny citizens their basic human rights.