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Rubio, Menendez, Gardner, Durbin, Coons, Introduce Bill to Reauthorize U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Sep 18, 2019 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Act of 2019 (USCIRF). Among other things, the bill reauthorizes USCIRF for four years and increases authorized appropriations.
“As religious freedom is under assault worldwide, I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort to ensure that advancing the right to freely exercise one’s religion and belief according to one’s conscience remains a priority of the U.S.,” Rubio said. “USCIRF plays an important role in highlighting religious freedom violations and advancing religious liberty around the globe, including by providing key recommendations to Congress. I look forward to seeing this Commission reauthorized and fulling its important mission.”
“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, which U. S. foreign policy champions. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom plays a worthy role in this effort,” Menendez said. “This reauthorization makes a number of important changes to advance transparency and accountability of the Commission and its members, ensuring that the Commission can continue to shine a light on threats to religious freedom around the globe.”
“Freedom of worship is a fundamental human right, one that we hold dear as Americans,” Gardner said. “The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is critical for the United States to continue to champion religious liberty around the globe — particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, where oppressive governments such as the People’s Republic of China restrict these basic rights.”
“This Commission was created to advise Congress and the Executive Branch about how the United States can most successfully protect religious freedom around the globe. In the midst of the worst refugee crisis in history, the United States must do more to address the scourge of religious persecution, including holding perpetrators accountable and providing safe haven to victims. This legislation includes important reforms to improve the Commission’s accountability and transparency so it can more effectively fulfill its mission,” Durbin said. “I’m proud to be part of a bipartisan group of Senators committed to getting this done.” 
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2019 will:

  • Reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for four years.
  • Remove staggered terms for Commissioners and make it one, non-renewable three year term.
  • Require the Commission to track implementation of its recommendations, to the extent possible, as well as the effectiveness of implemented recommendations.
  • Clarify hiring procedures and the roles and responsibilities of the Executive Director and Commissioners.
  • Create greater transparency of non-federal funding for international travel for Commissioners while they represent the Commission.
  • Extend the requirement for a Strategic Plan to be submitted every 2 years. 
  • Increase authorized appropriations from $3.5 million to $4.5 million to reflect the actual appropriation the Commission has received in recent years.

Additional Background:

  • The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) created the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). It is a bipartisan commission that monitors the right to freedom of religion internationally. The Commissioners of USCIRF are appointed by Congress and the President.
  • USCIRF issues an annual report that assesses the U.S. government’s implementation of IRFA, highlights “Countries of Particular Concern” regarding severe religious freedom violations, documents the conditions of religious freedom in many countries, and provides policy recommendations.