Founded by an act of Congress in 1998, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF) makes policy recommendations to the president and State Department about how to help those suffering religious persecution across the globe. One of its nine commissioners recently resigned to protest possible congressional efforts to reform it that would leave it bureaucratically hamstrung. Clifford May, himself a former commissioner, explains why he believes the proposed changes to be wrongheaded:
Some members of Congress disapprove of USCIRF. They object to its prioritization of “freedom of religion or belief”—which I regard as the most foundational right, the right upon which all others are built—over what they consider most important: expanding rights for select grievance communities (for want of a better term).
With that in mind, they are proposing to expand USCRIF’s remit to include opposition to “abuse of religion to justify human-rights violations.” Think about that: if a Christian baker declines to design wedding cakes for same-sex couples, is that abuse of religion? Is male circumcision a human-rights violation justified by abuse of Judaism and Islam?
I think commissioners should avoid such theological questions to the extent possible. They should focus instead on the plight of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, Buddhists in Tibet, Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, Baha’i in Iran, Yazidis in Iraq, and Christians in Syria, Egypt, and many other lands. On such issues, USCIRF commissioners, Democratic and Republican, can find consensus.