Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), one of Congress' most outspoken leaders on religious freedom and human rights, and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), co-founder and co-chair of the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East, today introduced legislation to create a special envoy position within the State Department to advocate on behalf of vulnerable religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.
The bipartisan bill passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives last Congress by a vote of 402-20, but was blocked in the Senate.
Last week, Wolf sent a letter to more than 300 Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox leaders in the West, calling for them to use their influence to speak out on behalf of the persecuted Church around the globe. In the letter, Wolf described how Christians in these regions are imprisoned, beaten, detained, tortured and killed every day because of their beliefs.
Thus far, the State Department has not done enough to protect these populations, which are rapidly decreasing in countries like Iraq and Egypt, Wolf said.
"We have a strategic and moral imperative to protect and preserve these ancient faith communities, which this administration has failed to do," Wolf said. "Too often we in the West have turned a blind eye to the suffering of persecuted people of faith. Having a single high-level person within the State Department bureaucracy charged with this pivotal task will send an important message to both our own foreign policy establishment and to suffering communities in the Middle East and elsewhere that religious freedom is a priority -- that America will be a voice for the voiceless."
"I believe the United States has an obligation to speak out on behalf of the millions of voiceless religious minorities in the Middle East," Eshoo said. "Religious tolerance in the region will not be realized as long as the decades of senseless violence they've endured goes unanswered. A special envoy would bring renewed hope and awareness, as well as address this crisis as part of America's foreign policy."
Wolf pointed to other special envoys -- including the Sudan special envoy and the North Korea Human Rights special envoy -- as examples of positions that were created within the State Department in response to an urgent need for focused attention on a critical issue. The dire challenges facing Coptic Christians, Baha'is, Chaldo-Assyrians, Ahmadis, the small remaining Jewish population and countless other religions minorities throughout the Middle East and South Central Asia is surely such an issue.
In 1998, Wolf authored the International Religious Freedom Act, which created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and established the International Religious Freedom Office at the State Department headed by an ambassador-at-large. He was the lead sponsor of legislation which successfully reauthorized the Commission last Congress, and he currently serves as co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.