Senators Advance International Religious Freedom Bill

Bipartisan international religious freedom legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) was approved this week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The bill (S.653), co-sponsored by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would create a special envoy at the State Department focusing specifically on the situations facing religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.

Pleased by the Committee’s action, Senator Blunt stated, “The continued violence we’ve witnessed against Coptic Christians and other civilians in the Middle East is deeply disturbing and defies the religious freedoms that Americans hold dear.” He then urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to schedule a Senate Floor vote on the bill to “demonstrate to leaders in the region that the United States takes religious freedom seriously.”

NRB has supported this bill for several years. The NRB Board of Directors in 2011 approved a Resolution calling on the President "to make a bold public statement against the international persecution of Christians, and to further enforce that position through his choice of Executive Branch appointments and through his foreign policy decisions." Following that, NRB sent letters of support for this legislation to President Obama and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), author of this bill’s companion legislation (H.R. 301) in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Wolf also applauded the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s action. He responded, “As millions of professing Christians around the world anticipate celebrating the birth of Christ – a birth marked by its humble beginnings in a small Middle Eastern town called Bethlehem – religious minorities throughout this region, including ancient Christian communities, are under siege. Passage of this legislation, while modest in scope, may provide some glimmer of hope that their plight has not been forgotten and that their suffering has prompted action.”

The House passed H.R. 301 by a vote of 402-22 in September.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: December 20, 2013