by Lanny Davis – 12/5/16
Congress has an opportunity to enact important legislation — an updated version of the International Religious Freedom Act. This is not only necessary to permit broader protection for religious freedoms around the world; it presents a golden opportunity, in this season of political polarization, for a bipartisan purple moment by the U.S. Congress.
Some brief background is in order.
The updated version, an amendment to the 1998 Act, is named after retired House member and human rights champion Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). It was unanimously approved by the House on May 16 and is now waiting Senate approval.
The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (D-N.J.), one of the U.S. Congress’s most famous human rights champions, and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), another human rights crusader and one of the most progressive Democrats in the party. Also strongly supporting the bill is another well-known human rights and progressive leader in the House, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who gave an eloquent statement in support of the bill on the floor of the House.
Other civil society leaders supporting the bill include Alan Dershowitz, the liberal professor of Harvard Law School; the honorable former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman; His Eminence Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C.; David Novak, president of the Union for Traditional Judaism; Robert Woodson, founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; Hamza Yusuf, president of Zaytuna College; Richard M. Joel, president of Yeshiva University and Bravmann Family University professor; and Imam Talal Y. Eid, of the Islamic Institute of Boston and formerly of the Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The arguments in favor of passage of this legislation are strong, and that is why it has won such broad-based bipartisan support. Some at State sometimes object to Congress “prioritizing” specific human rights of concern. My answer: If we already have similar legislation to prioritize by imposing sanctions for governments and individuals who engage in human trafficking, it should be just as necessary for violations of religious liberties.
From experience we know that diplomacy supporting religious freedom and critically scrutinizing encroachments on such freedom advances many democratic freedoms globally and is also increasingly an important national security interest. Smith said it best: “A robust religious freedom diplomacy is necessary to advance US interests in stability, security, and economic development.” Added Eshoo: “From the founding of our nation, religious freedom has been a pillar of our democracy and it remains one of the most cherished values of our country.”
I hope this legislation can be approved by the Senate this week, in time for the president to sign before Christmas. It would be an ideal Christmas present to give greater protection for individuals and all religious groups around the world, some of whom are in danger of persecution because of oppressive and intolerant governments.
We can and should take a stand for religious liberty in this season of peace, and for bipartisan cooperation that we hope can continue into the New Year and for years to come. I only hope the Senate will act quickly and unanimously to get this legislation approved in the next several days.
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Davis is co-founder of both the Washington law firm Davis Goldberg Galper PLLC and Trident DMG, a strategic media firm specializing in crisis management. He served as special counsel to former President Bill Clinton from 1996 to 1998 and is a regular columnist for The Hill newspaper. He has been a friend of Hillary Clinton since they were students at Yale Law School together in 1969 and 1970.
To read the column on The Hill, click here.