Senate Appropriators Engage on International Religious Freedom

Members of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee this week heard testimony from several witnesses on the subject of international religious freedom.  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chairman of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, called for the hearing and invited U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein, Bishop Oscar Cantú of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice to testify. 

Specifically regarding ongoing atrocities in the Middle East, Sekulow, whose relatives experienced the Holocaust, said that the version of Islam adhered to by ISIS is "as toxic as the Nazis.”  Perkins noted President Bill Clinton’s error in not identifying the violence in Rwanda during his administration as genocide because such a claim would demand American action.  “Now, in the Middle East, the United States has an obligation to prevent genocide. It must not fail to do so again,” Perkins said.

Among the numerous points raised by Senators in attendance, Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and James Lankford (R-OK) emphasized that the U.S. should be speaking for the constitutional right to religious freedom, not a much more limited “freedom of worship.”  Ambassador Saperstein agreed.  Saperstein was also pressed on why the Administration had not filled a special envoy spot on religious freedom in the Near East and South Central Asia that Congress authorized last summer.  Senator Blunt rejected the idea that the State Department may not have enough resources.  He said the special envoy appointment “should not be a budget discussion. This is either important or it’s not important. You can find the money to do this if you wanted to.” 

Senators who participated in this important hearing were Democrat Christopher Murphy (CT) and Republicans Lindsey Graham (SC), Mark Kirk (IL), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Jerry Moran (KS), James Lankford (OK), and Steve Daines (MT).

  • Find written testimony and video from this hearing here.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: March 13, 2015

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