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An independent religious freedom coalition recognized Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., on Tuesday for their commitment to protecting the freedoms of religious minorities around the world. Organizers said it was easy to pick this year’s religious liberty leaders and decide who should receive special recognition.
 
“When we got together to vote on recipients, there was not one word of dissent for [Rubio and Eshoo],” said Greg Mitchell, co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable.
 

 
“We can’t impose religious liberty, but I think we have the moral, and quite frankly, the national security obligation to ensure that we’re a voice on behalf of it around the world,” Rubio told me ahead of accepting the award. “I don’t want religious liberty to be an option or a box to be checked. I want it to be made a priority.”
 
Last year, Rubio led the Senate’s charge to preserve the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). After Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sought to make reforms that many religious freedom advocates said would have weakened the commission, Rubio countered with legislation to increase the body’s effectiveness. The net result was a four-year reauthorization that maintained current operations and set in motion an internal review of the organization.
 

 
Rubio and Eshoo also have advocated for individuals facing religious persecution in various hostile countries. Rubio was the Senate’s lead sponsor on a resolution to release Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, a pregnant South Sudanese woman imprisoned and sentenced to death because of her faith. Eshoo, along with Rubio and others, advocated for the release of Saeed Abedini, the Christian pastor who spent more than three years in an Iranian prison for his faith. He was finally released earlier this year.
 
Both of the roundtable’s award-winners praised the Obama administration for recognizing genocidal acts in the Middle East. Eshoo called the declaration an important first step the U.S. would build on to resolve conflict. But Rubio lacks confidence the White House will be active enough going forward.
 
“For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to be a priority for them,” Rubio said. “They don’t like to be told what to do, there is always resistance. … So we’ll continue to push as policymakers.”
 

 
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