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Land’s USCIRF service capped with Saudi CPC designation

WASHINGTON (BP)–Richard Land’s service on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom closed with a particularly gratifying capstone for the Southern Baptist church-state specialist.

President Bush named Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, Sept. 20 to succeed Land on the five-year-old independent panel, which advises Congress and the White House on global religious liberty issues. Land had served three years as a Bush appointee.

Only five days before the announcement of Cromartie’s selection, the State Department –- acting on the recommendation of the USCIRF — added Saudi Arabia and two other regimes to its list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. Throughout the commission’s existence, it had sought the addition of the Middle East government to the list of the State Department’s “countries of particular concern.”

“I can’t think of a better way to end my service than to have the Bush administration name Saudi Arabia a ‘country of particular concern,’” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Naming Saudi Arabia will give us tremendously increased credibility in criticizing other nations around the world, none of whom, with the possible exception of North Korea, have less religious freedom than Saudi Arabia.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve in a noble cause on the [commission],” Land said. “I came away from my service never being more proud of my country and what my country is doing to defend religious freedom around the world.”

The USCIRF’s recommendation of Saudi Arabia, and the State Department’s designation of the country, as a CPC was based on the dominance of a state-approved version of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabi. The Saudi government is hostile to non-Muslims and Muslims outside the Wahhabi tradition. It prohibits conversion to a different faith, public religious activities by non-Muslims, and proselytizing and distribution efforts by non-Muslims. The USCIRF also had targeted Saudi Arabia because of evidence the government was funding the spread of Wahhabism to schools in other countries.

Bush appointed Land to a two-year term in 2001 and reappointed him to a one-year term in 2003. Land traveled to Belgium, France and Russia in his work as a commissioner.

Land will be “very, very missed in the community we work with and on the commission,” USCIRF Executive Director Joseph Crapa said. “He takes on the big issues. He’s not afraid to confront and speak out and just keep persistently pushing the issue or condemning an action or saying what needs to be said publicly and privately.

“He brings his own faith and passion and, along with that, tremendous knowledge of the issues, a real knowledge of how the world works and how to deal with it.

“On the commission, he’s had tremendous influence in working with China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, North Korea and with Europe,” Crapa said. “He was able to confront a number of European countries over repressive laws on religious freedom.”

Vietnam and Eritrea joined Saudi Arabia Sept. 15 as State Department additions to its CPC list. The department returned Burma, China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan to the list.

In addition to naming Cromartie to a two-year term, Bush returned Charles Chaput, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Denver to the commission. The president named Chaput to a one-year term in 2003 and a two-year term this year.

At the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Cromartie directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life program. He has edited 12 books on religion and politics.

Land said he is “very excited about the naming of Michael Cromartie as my replacement. Michael is a good friend, is deeply committed to this issue and brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the commission.”

Under the 1998 law that established the USCIRF, the president selects three members of the panel, while congressional leaders name the other six.

The State Department has 90 days to designate the policies it will utilize with its latest CPC designees. The law requires the president to take specific actions against governments designated as CPCs. He is provided a range of options, from diplomacy to economic sanctions. The president also has the authority to waive any action.