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First USCIRF meeting ‘tremendous,’ Land says; Young elected chairman

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has elected law school dean Michael Young as its chairman.

The panel chose Young in its Sept. 20-21 meeting in Washington. Young is dean of the George Washington University Law School.

It was the first meeting of the panel since President Bush named Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and two others to the commission.

Land said it was a “tremendous experience to attend my first meeting and to have an opportunity to work with commissioners and staff who are so dedicated to the cause of religious freedom around the world,” as well as to be briefed by State Department officials and others “about areas of progress and areas of concern.”

“It was the general consensus of the commissioners who were already serving that this whole issue of religious freedom and freedom of conscience was of much more concern to the State Department than would have been the case even five years ago,” Land said.

In addition to Land, the president named to the commission Sept. 17 William Francis Murphy, bishop of the Archdiocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and Shirin Tahir-Kheli, director of the South Asia program of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

Bush has not named an ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, a position that has been vacant since Robert Seiple resigned a year ago. The ambassador serves as a nonvoting member of the panel.

In addition to Young, two other commissioners also served during the panel’s first two-year term beginning in 1999. They are Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington-based Freedom House, and Firuz Kazemzadeh, senior advisor of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States. Young was reappointed by Sen. Trent Lott, R.-Miss., Senate minority leader; Shea by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R.-Ill., and Kazemzadeh by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D.-S.D.

Other new commissioners are Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights at the American Jewish Committee; Leila Nadya Sadat, professor at the Washington University Law School in St. Louis; and Charles Stith, former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania. Rep. Richard Gephardt, D.-Mo., House minority leader, appointed Gaer and Sadat, and Daschle named Stith.

Gaer and Stith were elected to serve with Young on the panel’s executive committee.

The commissioners’ terms will conclude in mid-May 2003. Their terms began on May 15 this year, but all were appointed after that date. The panel members are not paid for their service, but the federal government covers their commission-related expenses.

Congress established the commission in 1998 as part of the International Religious Freedom Act. The panel researches religious liberty issues in other countries and makes recommendations to the White House and Congress.

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