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ERLC’s Land: Bill would help U.S. overcome failure on persecution

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States is not a “money-bags democracy for sale to the highest bidder” and can overcome its negligence to deal with the persecution of Christians overseas by establishing a White House office to monitor such activity in foreign lands, Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land told a congressional panel recently.
Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, testified in support of the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act. He was joined in endorsing the bill before the House of Representatives International Relations Committee by the presidents of Christian Coalition and the National Association of Evangelicals. Some other witnesses, including a representative from Amnesty International, supported government action on religious persecution but questioned some provisions of the legislation.
In the most gripping testimony, a former Tibetan nun shared a graphic account of her persecution at the hands of Chinese police. A student from the Sudan told about the widespread persecution of Christians in his homeland.
The focus of the Sept. 9-10 hearings was a bill introduced jointly by Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa. The legislation would:
— establish a new White House position, director of the Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring, to report on persecution overseas;
— provide for sanctions against governments that support or fail to prevent persecution; and
— improve asylum proceedings for victims of religious persecution.
The bill enables the president to waive sanctions, but he must provide Congress with a written explanation.
On the first day of hearings, Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck said the Clinton administration, while committed to addressing foreign religious persecution, opposed the bill, especially its establishment of a new system to deal with the issue. On Sept. 10, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott endorsed a legislative remedy for the problem just prior to about five hours of testimony.
During the second day of hearings, Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R.-N.Y., chairman, said a committee vote on the bill would be postponed from Sept. 11 to next week at the request of Democrats on the panel. Supporters of the legislation hope to gain passage before Congress adjourns this year.
The worldwide persecution of Christians “has not occupied a significant place” for the U.S. government, Land told the panel Sept. 10. “That must change. The Wolf-Specter legislation would accomplish such change.”
Its establishment of a White House office that would have monitoring authority “would give the U.S. government a mechanism to focus the American people’s growing outrage on this issue,” he said.
“The non-exclusive but focused emphasis on anti-Christian persecution … will provide for a far more balanced understanding of the real human rights picture in the world,” Land said.
“A foreign policy that denies our basic values and seeks only to meet the requirements of commerce and business is, and always will remain, totally unacceptable. Some foreign governments do not think America cares what happens to non-Americans and that we are a money-bags democracy for sale to the highest bidder and enslaved by the bottom line. They are wrong.”
Lodi Gyari, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, told the committee China’s leaders “think of this administration as a paper tiger.”
Tsultrim Dolma, 28, a former Buddhist nun from Tibet, described the four-month imprisonment, beatings, torture and sexual molestation with an electric rod, and rape by Chinese police in her occupied land.
“I would like to appeal to the people here and in the United States because I have heard that America comes to the aid of the world’s suffering people, so I would like to urge you to come to the help of the people in Tibet,” Dolma said through a translator.
Atilio John, 27, who, like Dolma, has resettled in the United States, was a leader in a university Bible study organization in the Sudan before he fled the country at the advice of a school official. The Muslim-sponsored government’s persecution of Christians includes mass murders, the destruction of predominantly Christian residential areas, the withholding of food and water from displaced Christians and animists to convert them to Islam and the abduction and enslavement of women and children from Christian villages.
“How long will the American people” wait while slavery goes on? John asked.
At the request of Rep. Lee Hamilton, D.-Ind., Land said China and the Sudan were the countries he would most like to see the Untied States take action against.
Stephen Rickard, director of Amnesty International USA’s Washington office, told the committee he was concerned the White House office might result in other questions. “We’re just not persuaded that this goes to the heart of the problem,” he said.