By Kristin Wright, Director of Advocacy at Open Doors USA ISIS continues to tear across Iraq, ruthlessly persecuting Christians and other religious minorities. In Syria, Christians and Muslims face persecution by ISIS and other radical groups. Earlier this year, Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese wife and mother, was imprisoned for her faith, and sentenced to death by hanging. These are only a few of the thousands of examples of horrific violations of religious freedom occurring around the globe. It is clear that religious freedom is more at risk than ever in the world today. At Open Doors USA, we are constantly monitoring opportunities to make a difference for persecuted believers around the world ‘ and part of this effort involves seeking long-term policy changes to address the root causes of religious persecution. Right now, we’re working alongside many other organizations to support the reauthorization of a commission that we believe is crucial in the fight for religious freedom around the world. The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is currently awaiting reauthorization in Congress. Together with many other organizations, Open Doors USA is encouraging reauthorization of this crucial commission, asking Senators to support the swift passage of the House-passed bill, H.R. 4653, The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Reauthorization Act of 2014, as soon as possible. What is USCIRF? “USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world, dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad,” according to the USCIRF website. This commission, created in 2011, raises and addresses the cases of individuals around the world who face discrimination, harassment, and severe persecution for their faith. The commission reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations, and ultimately makes policy recommendations based on this information to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. Why Now? At a time when international religious freedom is more threatened than ever before ‘ think again of ISIS terrorizing religious minorities in Iraq, and radical Islamist groups overtaking churches in Syria, as just two examples of encroachments on religious freedom worldwide ‘ we believe it is vital that USCIRF be reauthorized. Without this commission, the US government will not have a specific body dedicated to addressing religious persecution and making crucial recommendations. Without the commission’s recommendations, religious freedom won’t be addressed as frequently or comprehensively in US policy. Why is Religious Freedom so Important? Religious faith is on the rise. According to the Pew Forum, 84% of people around the world believe in something greater than themselves ‘ and yet, 75% of the people on our planet live with heavy government restrictions on their individual freedom of religion, conscience or belief. Recent research conducted by Brian Grim and Roger Finke, and chronicled in-depth in their book The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century confirms that where there is less religious freedom, there is more political instability and conflict, more violent extremism and terrorism ‘ and less empowerment for women as well as less economic development. We have to ensure that the US government continues to address religious freedom throughout the world. You can take action on this crucial issue by encouraging your Senator to support the swift passage of the House-passed bill, H.R. 4653, The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Reauthorization Act of 2014, as soon as possible.
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