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Public Statements

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reform and Re-authorization Act of 2011

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in strong support of H.R. 2867, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reform and Reauthorization Act of 2011, and the Senate amendments to the bill.

I want to initially start out by thanking the sponsor of this legislation, the gentleman from Virginia, Frank Wolf, for his leadership on the issue of international religious freedom; Senator Durbin for his efforts to strengthen the bill; my chairman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for her management of this whole process that's finally going to get this reauthorization hopefully passed and sent to the President.

We're fortunate to live in a country that was founded by religious refugees on principles of tolerance. And we strive to adhere to article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right includes the freedom to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.

But elsewhere around the world, religious freedom and human rights are routinely violated. Countless men, women, and children face violence, persecution, and discrimination because of their faith. Unfortunately, intolerance is not restricted to just a few countries. Violent extremist attacks have taken place in the Middle East and South Asia. The regimes in North Korea and Iran actively repress religious freedom. Apostasy and blasphemy laws have fueled discrimination against religious minorities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Other religious minorities like the Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, Ahmadis, and the Bahais face violence in government restrictions, and anti-Semitism is still prevalent around the world.

More than ever, we need the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to continue its important work to support the right to practice one's religion freely around the globe.

This bipartisan bill before us today reauthorizes the Commission, known as USCIRF, for another 3 years. The bill also contains some sensible reforms that will strengthen USCIRF's efforts to monitor and report on the status of freedom of religion abroad. These reforms include the process of selecting the chair, term limits for service for the members of the Commission, travel regulations, and a GAO study on improving the effectiveness and coordination of all the U.S. Government bodies that focus on international religious freedom.

In particular, I would like to thank Mr. Wolf for agreeing to include a provision that clarifies that USCIRF is subject to the same workplace protections and civil rights laws as the rest of the Federal Government.

With this piece of legislation, USCIRF will be able to more effectively carry out its mission and be the Commission it was intended to be. I urge my colleagues to support the legislation.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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