Congress can do more for religious liberty abroad, scorecard finds

Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States Congress can do more to prioritize international religious freedom, and ensuring that bills come up for a vote is key to that, an advocacy organization has found in its new scorecard for Senators and Representatives.

At a time when the three-fourths of the world’s population lives in countries where freedom of religion is significantly restricted, members of U.S. Congress must be held accountable on how much importance they give to protecting and promoting this freedom abroad, The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative maintained.

“Congress can do more to prioritize international religious freedom,” the Wilberforce Initiative concluded from its scorecard for the 114th session of Congress.

The card was announced last year as a way to hold members of Congress accountable for their activity – or lack thereof – in promoting religious freedom abroad.

“Most of the major international religious freedom initiatives over the past few decades came from Congress,” stated Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who earned the top score among members of the U.S. House.

The top scorer in the Senate was Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

The Wilberforce Initiative announced that “collectively, more people are persecuted for their faith now than at any other time in the world’s history. This includes more than 100 million people killed under repressive secularist and communist regimes in the 20th century.”

“Federal legislators can help our nation lead in the protection and promotion of religious freedom by publicizing various issues and cases, by passing bills in support of religious freedom, and, in some instances, by exerting pressure in support of religious freedom. It is critical that legislators use their influence to support those who are persecuted for their faith.”

So the Wilberforce Initiative's scorecard tracks legislators' votes on bills and their sponsorships or co-sponsorships of legislation, as well as their membership in religious freedom caucuses like the International Religious Freedom Caucus, the House Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

Most bills are not ultimately voted on, the Wilberforce Initiative maintained, so they make sure to keep track of members’ sponsorship of bills in an effort to bring up a vote on an important religious freedom issue. And many items, especially in the Senate, have not yet been voted on and provide “ample opportunity” for members to prove their commitment to religious freedom in 2017.

What were some of the most pressing matters of religious freedom in 2016?

Two of the biggest score items, according to the Wilberforce Initiative, were H. Con. Res. 75, a congressional resolution stating that the Islamic State was committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria, which passed the House in March; and the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which passed both houses in December.

Some of the other items included the Combatting European Anti-Semitism Act of 2016 and Senate resolutions calling for sanctions on Vietnam’s human rights abusers, and condemning “the Government of Iran’s state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority.”

House resolutions included a call for the U.S. to support a Nineveh Plain province for its inhabitants who were persecuted by the Islamic State and a “call for the global repeal of blasphemy laws.”

Most of the highly-recognized leaders on the issue are members of the House, as “the Senate has been less engaged in promoting religious freedom than the House,” the Wilberforce Initiative noted.

The Wilberforce Initiative also noted that low scores “do not necessarily indicate disagreement with international religious freedom, but reflect that it was not a high priority for that legislator. Conversely, high scores demonstrate that a given legislator actively supported international religious freedom legislation and has made support of international religious freedom a priority.”

It also stated that a scorecard “is an imperfect tool” and that “there are are additional factors that cannot be reflected,” such as quiet diplomacy and casework.

Of legislators who earned an “A”, 56 percent were Republicans and 44 percent were Democrats. Those with “B” and “C” ratings were also majority Republican. But among legislators who scored a “D”, 62 percent were Republicans and 38 percent were Democrats. No legislators earned an “F”.

Marco Rubio was the only Senator to receive an “A+”, while 13 Representatives received the score: Robert Dold (R-Ill.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), David Trott (R-Mich.), and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.).

Aside from Rubio, 2016's presidential contenders did not fare so well on the list. Sens Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) got “C” marks, and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) received “D” ratings.

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