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Religious freedom panel gets extension

WASHINGTON (BP) — The congressionally approved watchdog for global religious liberty is still alive.

The House of Representatives passed Oct. 4 a continuing spending resolution for the second time in a week that maintains the existence of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The latest appropriations measure, approved by the House and Senate and signed into law Oct. 5 by President Obama, contains a provision extending authorization of USCIRF through Nov. 18. The commission’s authorization initially had been set to end Sept. 30.

The spending bill continues to fund the federal government until Nov. 18.

USCIRF has played a major role in bringing attention to the persecution of Christians and other faith adherents since it was established by the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998. The bipartisan panel advises the White House, State Department and Congress on the condition of religious freedom overseas. Among its responsibilities is to recommend to the State Department governments that it believes qualify as “countries of particular concern,” a designation reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious liberty.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is one of USCIRF’s nine members.

The House passed legislation in mid-September that would not only reauthorize USCIRF but reform it. The proposal would change the number and tenure of its commissioners, as well as reduce its budget from more than $4 million to $3 million. That measure — the USCIRF Reform and Reauthorization Act, H.R. 2867 — would reduce the commission from nine to five members, giving the president one selection, Senate leaders two and House leaders two. It has yet to pass the Senate. Since 1998, the president has had three slots to fill, the Senate leadership three and the House leadership three.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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