The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a U.S. federal government commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF's principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
|United States Commission on International Religious Freedom|
|Formed||October 28, 1998|
The legislation authorizing the USCIRF stated that the Commission would terminate on September 30, 2011, unless it was reauthorized or given a temporary extension. It was given several extensions by the Congress, but would have expired at 5:00 pm on Friday, December 16, 2011 had it not been reauthorized for a seven-year term (until 2018), on the morning of the 16th. This happened after a new reauthorization bill passed both Houses containing two amendments were made to it that Senator Dick Durbin, D-IL (the Senate Majority Whip) had wanted as a condition of releasing a hold he had secretly placed on the former version of the bill; he released it on December 13, after the revisions were made. They stipulate that there will be a two-year limit on terms for commissioners, and that they will be under the same travel restrictions as employees of the Department of State.
In 2016, the U.S. Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which amended IRFA in various ways, including adding a category of designation for non-state actors.
USCIRF researches and monitors international religious freedom issues. The Commission is authorized to travel on fact-finding missions to other countries and hold public hearings.
The Commission on International Religious Freedom issues an annual report that includes policy recommendations to the U.S. government based on the report's evaluation of the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations worldwide.
The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 provides for the Commission to be composed of ten members:
IRFA provides that "Members of the Commission shall be selected among distinguished individuals noted for their knowledge and experience in fields relevant to the issue of international religious freedom, including foreign affairs, direct experience abroad, human rights, and international law." Commissioners are not paid for their work on the Commission, but are provided a travel budget and a 15–20 member staff. Appointments last for two years, and Commissioners are eligible for reappointment.
As of January 2019, the Commissioners were:
Past Commissioners include David Saperstein, Preeta D. Bansal, John Hanford, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Charles J. Chaput, Michael K. Young, Firuz Kazemzadeh, Shirin R. Tahir-Kheli, John R. Bolton, Elliot Abrams, Felice D. Gaer, Azizah Y. al-Hibri, Leonard Leo, and Richard Land. 
USCIRF has placed India on CPC and watch list in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010. Their report has drawn criticism from the Indian press. The Pioneer, in an editorial termed it as "fiction", "biased", and "Surpassing Goebbels". It criticized USCIRF for projecting the massacre of 58 Hindu passengers as an accident. It also accused USCIRF of indirectly justifying murder of Swami Lakshamananda Saraswati, a Hindu cleric and social activist.
Christian leaders in Odisha defended India: Archbishop Raphael Cheenath stated that India remained of a secular character, the president of the Odisha Minority Forum that, despite a small hate campaign against minorities, the majority of society had been "cordial and supportive", and the Orissa Secular Front that, despite the 2002 and 2008 riots, India had a strong secular foundation.
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has criticized USCIRF for a lack of transparency, for defending Christian missionary groups for converting Hindus, failing to mention the plight of Hindu Kashmiri Pandit refugees, and for commissioning a biased-special report on India by Iqtidar Cheema. Specifically, HAF points out that Cheema is a native of Pakistan, who has been honored by Pakistani government bodies, and supports Pakistan’s foreign policy goals as well. Furthermore, Cheema has supported Islamic separatist movements in Kashmir, Khalistani separatism in Punjab and supports the banned Babbar Khalsa terrorist group.
Prior to the 2001 visit of the USCIRF to Egypt, some Coptic leaders in Egypt protested, viewing the visit as a form of American imperialism. For example, Mounir Azmi, a member of the Coptic Community Council, said that despite problems for Copts, the visit was a "vile campaign against Egypt" and would be unhelpful. Another critic called the visit "foreign intervention in our internal affairs". In the event, the USCIRF was able to meet the Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III and Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar University, but others refused to meet the delegation. Hisham Kassem, chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, felt that insisting on the rights of Christians in Egypt might antagonize Muslims and thus be counterproductive.
The first-ever U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Robert Seiple, criticized the USCIRF's emphasis on the punishment of religious persecution over the promotion of religious freedom. In his view, the USCIRF was "only cursing the darkness." As an example, he highlighted the Commission's decision to designate Laos a Country of Particular Concern in 2002 despite release of religious prisoners. He further stated "...that which was conceived in error and delivered in chaos has now been consigned to irrelevancy. Unless the Commission finds some candles soon, Congress ought to turn out the lights."
The Commission responded that despite the releases, the Marxist, Pathet Lao government in Laos still had systemic impediments to religious freedom, such as laws allowing religious activities only with the consent of Pathet Lao government officials, and laws allowing the government to determine whether a religious community is in accord with its own teaching.
Other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious freedom and human rights advocates, policy experts and Members of Congress, have defended the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's research work, and various reports on the Pathet Lao government's increased and serious religious persecution in Laos, from Seiple's controversial criticism. They have pointed out potential conflicts of interest involving reported grant monies Seiple, or a non-profit organization connected to Seiple, reportedly received from officials at the U.S. Department of State to apparently seek to minimize grossly increased religious persecution and widespread human rights violations by the Lao government and the Lao People's Army.
In 2007, Central Asia and foreign affairs experts S. Frederick Starr, Brenda Shaffer, and Svante Cornell accused USCIRF of championing the rights of groups that aspire to impose religious coercion on others in the name of religious freedom in the Central Asian states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. USCIRF has castigated these countries for excessive and restrictions on religious freedom and repression of non-traditional religious groups, despite them having a strict separation of church and state, refusing to make Islam the state religion, and having a secular legal system.
The Commission has been accused of being biased towards focusing on the persecution of Christians and of being anti-Muslim. A former policy analyst, Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that she was fired because she was a Muslim and a member of an advocacy group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Current commissioners and some other religious freedom advocates deny the claims of bias. The commission has also been accused of in-fighting and ineffectiveness.
Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch said about the report: "I think the legislative history of this Act will probably reflect that there was a great deal of interest in protecting the rights of Christians .... So I think that the burden is probably on the US government to show that in this Act they're not engaging in crusading or proselytization on behalf of the Christian religion."
In a 2009 study of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Institute of Global Engagement stated that the United States' international religious freedom policy was problematic in that it "has focused more on rhetorical denunciations of persecutors and releasing religious prisoners than on facilitating the political and cultural institutions necessary to religious freedom," and had therefore been ineffective. It further stated that U.S. IRF policy was often perceived as an attack on religion, cultural imperialism, or a front for American missionaries. The report recommended that there be more attention to religious freedom in U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy in general, and that the USCIRF devote more attention to monitoring the integration of religious freedom issues into foreign policy.
In 2018, the Hindu American Foundation questioned the credibility of the commission after the appointment of Tony Perkins as a commissioner citing his past "hateful stances against non-Christians." The Southern Poverty Law Center also chastised Perkins for far-right Christian views, his anti-LGBT views, his associations with the Klu Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups, terming his evangelical organization, the Family Research Council, a "hate group."
Media related to United States Commission on International Religious Freedom at Wikimedia CommonsClifford May
Clifford D. May (born 1951) is an American journalist, editor, political activist, and podcast host. He is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, where he hosts the podcast "Foreign Podicy." He is the weekly "Foreign Desk" columnist for The Washington Times. He previously served as commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission that makes policy recommendations concerning international religious freedom, as well as the Chairman of the Policy Committee department within the Committee on the Present Danger. May was also previously a weekly columnist for Scripps Howard News Service and National Review Online. May has been widely published, including in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary, USA Today, and The Atlantic. He has served as a reporter, a foreign correspondent, and a newspaper/magazine editor, working notably for Newsweek in the 1970s and for The New York Times in the 1980s.May is also a member of the Henry Jackson Society. In October 2007, The Daily Telegraph named May number 94 in its list of the '100 most influential conservatives in America', identifying him as a neo-conservative within the Republican Party.Country of Particular Concern
Country of Particular Concern (CPC) is a designation by the United States Secretary of State (under authority delegated by the President) of a nation guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 (H.R. 2431) and its amendment of 1999 (Public Law 106-55). The term "particularly severe violations of religious freedom" means systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as:
a) Torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;
b) Prolonged detention without charges;
c) Causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or
d) Other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons. Nations so designated are subject to further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.Issuing recommendations as to countries it believes should be designated as countries of particular concern for their religious liberty violations is the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a separate agency created by IRFA (along with the U.S. Department of State's Office of International Religious Freedom) to monitor the state of religious freedom around the world. Both entities provide policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and US Congress. Its recommendations are not always followed by the Secretary of State.
The latest USCIRF report from December 2018 recommended each of the following nations as a CPC:
Central African Republic
VietnamThese countries are considered Tier 2 countries and are on the watchlist:
TurkeyIn addition, the USCIRF designated the following non-state actors as "entities of particular concern" (EPCs):
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
The Taliban in Afghanistan
Al-Shabaab in Somalia
al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
ISIS-KhorasanEthics and Public Policy Center
The Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) is a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank and advocacy group. Founded in 1976, the group describes itself as "dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy", and advocacy of founding principles such as the rule of law. The EPPC is active in a number of ways, including hosting lectures and conferences, publishing written work from the group's scholars, and running programs intended to explore areas of public concern and interest.
The EPPC's current president is Edward Whelan, who previously worked as an official in the United States Department of Justice. Yuval Levin serves as vice president, replacing Michael Cromartie, former chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, while George Weigel, Catholic theologian and papal biographer, is distinguished senior fellow.
The EPPC is a qualified 501(c)(3) organization and currently employs 20 individuals. According to Hoover's, the EPPC's annual sales total $2.47 million while their annual income totals $283,900.Felice D. Gaer
Felice D. Gaer (born 1946) is an American public service professional and administrator. She has worked on human rights matters and has been a longstanding member and the former chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. She is a member of the US National Commission to UNESCO.
Gaer directs the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights of the American Jewish Committee, which conducts research and advocacy to strengthen international human rights. Gaer has served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom since 2000. Nominated by the Clinton administration and renominated by the Bush administration and Obama administration, she had served as chair for three terms, had served as Vice Chair for three terms, and had served one term of the Executive Committee. Her current appointment was made by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Gaer was the first American to serve as an Independent Expert on the United Nations Committee Against Torture. There, she had been Vice Chair. Gaer is also a member of the American Council on Foreign Relations.Firuz Kazemzadeh
Firuz Kazemzadeh (Persian: فیروز کاظمزاده; October 27, 1924 – May 17, 2017) was a Russian-born American historian who was professor emeritus of history at Yale University.
Firuz Kazemzadeh was born in Moscow to an Iranian father and a Russian mother. His father served in the Iranian embassy in Moscow. After completing his primary and secondary education in Moscow, Kazemzadeh (then aged 16) and his family moved to Iran. In 1944, during the height of World War II, he travelled from Tehran to the United States and entered Stanford University, graduating with distinction (Phi Beta Kappa) in 1946 and obtaining an MA in 1947. In 1950 Kazemzadeh received a Ph.D. in Russian history from Harvard University.
Kazemzadeh taught at Harvard in 1954 – 1956, then moved to Yale where he was professor of history until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1992. While at Yale, he also served as Master of Davenport College.
He was the author and co-author of a number of books on the history of Russia and Iran, as well as numerous articles and reviews for authoritative scholarly publications.
Between May 15, 1998 and May 14, 2003, Kazemzadeh served as a Commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, first appointed to this position in 1998 by President Bill Clinton, and in 2001, reappointed by US Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle.Kazemzadeh was an adherent of the Bahá'í Faith and, from 1963 to 2000, served as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States.Freedom of religion in China
Freedom of religion in China is provided for in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, with an important caveat: the government protects what it calls "normal religious activity," defined in practice as activities that take place within government-sanctioned religious organizations and registered places of worship. Although the dynastic governments of imperial China also claimed responsibility for the practice of religion, human rights bodies such as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have criticized this differentiation as falling short of international standards for the protection of religious freedom.The government of the People's Republic of China officially espouses state atheism, and has conducted antireligious campaigns to this end. China's five officially sanctioned religious organizations are the Buddhist Association of China, Chinese Taoist Association, Islamic Association of China, Three-Self Patriotic Movement and Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. These groups are afforded a degree of protection, but are subject to restrictions and controls under the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Unregistered religious groups—including house churches, Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists, underground Catholics, and Uyghur Muslims—face varying degrees of harassment, including imprisonment, torture, and forced religious conversion to atheism. Tam and Hasmath argue that the Chinese government views religion as potentially destabilizing.Freedom of religion in France
Freedom of religion in France is guaranteed by the constitutional rights set forth in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
Since 1905 the French government has followed the principle of laïcité, in which the State does not recognize any official religion (except for legacy statutes like that of military chaplains and the local law in Alsace-Moselle). Instead, it merely recognizes certain religious organizations, according to formal legal criteria that do not address religious doctrine. In return, religious organizations are to refrain from involvement in the State's policy-making.
According to Pew Research Center in 2017, France has a high level of government restrictions on religion. Among the world's 25 most populous nations, France is among the 12 countries with a high level of religious restrictions, according to 2015 data. In Europe, France has the second highest level of religious restrictions, behind only Russia.Gary Bauer
Gary Lee Bauer (born May 4, 1946) is an American politician and activist.
He served in President Ronald Reagan's administration as Under Secretary of Education and Chief Domestic Policy Advisor, and later became president of the Family Research Council and a senior vice president of Focus on the Family - both conservative Christian organizations. In 2000, he participated in the Republican presidential contest and took part in five national debates. He is known for his advocacy of religious liberty, support for Israel, and his dedication to electing conservative candidates to Congress.
Currently, Bauer is president of the advocacy organization American Values. In May 2018, President Donald Trump appointed him to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.International Religious Freedom Act of 1998
The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (Public Law 105–292, as amended by Public Law 106–55, Public Law 106–113, Public Law 107–228, Public Law 108–332, and Public Law 108–458) was passed to promote religious freedom as a foreign policy of the United States, to promote greater religious freedom in countries which engage in or tolerate violations of religious freedom, and to advocate on the behalf of individuals persecuted for their religious beliefs and activities in foreign countries. The Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 27, 1998. Three cooperative entities have been maintained by this act to monitor religious persecution.
An Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom within the Department of State, who is the highest-ranking US diplomat on international religious freedom, and who is tasked with carrying out the provisions of IRFA: the Annual Report, negotiations with foreign governments to bring about greater religious freedom, and the determination of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC's) under IRFA, which entails further actions.
A bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, designed to provide independent policy recommendations and fact-finding, and
A Special Adviser on International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council.IRFA was introduced on March 26, 1998 by Senator Don Nickles (R-OK), Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and others, as a far-reaching policy response to the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act of 1997, introduced by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Senator Arlen Specter on May 27, 1997 as H.R.1685/S.772, and subsequently reintroduced on September 8, 1997 as H.R. 2431, the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act. H.R. 2431 affected only a handful of countries, with a narrow range of measures; IRFA based its measures on international human rights law and created a structure to address religious freedom issues in depth all over the world. On October 8, 1998, the Senate passed IRFA by a vote of 98-0. IRFA was renumbered as Amendment S. 3789 to H.R.2431, so that the Senate version could be adopted in its entirety as an amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.R.2431, including its title, the "International Religious Freedom Act." IRFA was passed in full by the House on the consent calendar on October 10, 1998.James Zogby
James Joseph Zogby (born 1945) is the founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.–based organization which serves as a political and policy research arm of the Arab-American community. He is Managing Director of Zogby Research Services, LLC, specializing in research and communications and undertaking polling across the Arab world. In September 2013, Zogby was appointed to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom by President Obama. Zogby is a lecturer and scholar on Middle East issues and a Visiting Professor of Social Research and Public Policy at New York University Abu Dhabi. From 2001 until October 2017 he was a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee.John S. Ruskay
John S. Ruskay (born August 3, 1946), is Executive Vice President emeritus of UJA-Federation of New York and a senior partner of JRB Consulting Services. He served as a Commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom from May 2016 to May 2018. Ruskay is an author and lecturer on issues affecting the Jewish people.MIVILUDES
MIVILUDES (an acronym for the French-language phrase Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires, i.e. "Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances") is a French government agency, with responsibility for monitoring groups perceived to constitute a threat to public order or that violate French law, coordinating the government response, informing the public about potential risks, and assisting victims. The agency was created in 2002.Preeta D. Bansal
Preeta D. Bansal (born October 18, 1965) is an American lawyer who served as the General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor to the federal Office of Management and Budget from 2009 until 2011. Prior to her work in the Obama administration, she served as a law partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and as the Solicitor General of the State of New York during Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's first term. She also has been a member and past chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). She is currently a lecturer at MIT and senior advisor at the Laboratory for Social Machines based at the MIT Media Lab.Religion in Korea
Religion in Korea refers the various religious traditions practiced on the Korean peninsula. The oldest indigenous religion of Korea is Korean shamanism, which has been passed down from prehistory to the present. Buddhism was introduced to Korea from China during the Three Kingdoms era in the 4th century, and the religion flourished until the Joseon Dynasty, when Korean Confucianism became the state religion. During the Late Joseon Dynasty, in the 19th century, Christianity began to gain a foothold in Korea. While both Christianity and Buddhism would play important roles in the resistance to the Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century, only about 4% of Koreans were members of a religious organization in 1940.Since the division of Korea into two sovereign states in 1945—North Korea and South Korea—religious life in the two countries has diverged, shaped by different political structures. Religion in South Korea has been characterized by a rise of Christianity and a revival of Buddhism, though the majority of South Koreans have no religious affiliation. Religion in North Korea is characterized by state atheism in which freedom of religion is nonexistent. Juche ideology, which promotes the North Korean cult of personality, is regarded by experts as the national religion.Scientology in Russia
Scientology has been subjected to considerable persecution in Russia.Shia Islam in Indonesia
Shi'a Islam in Indonesia represents a small minority in that largely-Sunni Muslim country. Around one million Indonesians are Shias, who are concentrated around Jakarta. Indonesian Shia are found in areas of Java, Madura and Sumatra.Shirin R. Tahir-Kheli
Shirin R. Tahir-Kheli is an American political scientist who also served in the Department of State. In 2006, she was appointed as the first Ambassador for women's empowerment by the United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State on United Nations Reform. She was sworn in as the First American Muslim Ambassador in July 1990. Dr. Tahir-Kheli was the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations at the White House National Security Council, from 2003-2005. She has served three Republican presidential administrations since 1980.Tony Perkins (politician)
Anthony Richard Perkins (born March 20, 1963) is president of the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative policy and lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C. Perkins was previously a police officer and television reporter, served two terms as a Republican member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002. On May 14 2018, he was appointed to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2014
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4653) is a bill that would amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) as an independent federal government advisory body through FY2019.The bill was introduced into the United States House of Representatives during the 113th United States Congress.