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Religious freedom panel names CLS attorney as its director

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has named a religious liberty specialist for the Christian Legal Society as its executive director.
The federal panel recently selected Steven McFarland, director of CLS’ Center for Law and Religious Freedom, to the post. McFarland had served more than eight years in leading the national organization’s litigation and lobbying efforts from CLS’ offices in northern Virginia. He will assume the commission post Sept. 7.
McFarland will direct the staff for the panel, which was established last October with the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act. The nine-member commission established by the law is to report annually on countries guilty of committing or permitting violations of religious liberty. The president is required to respond to the report, but he has options ranging from diplomatic protest to economic sanction as measures to use in dealing with offending governments.
The members of the panel were selected by President Clinton and the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives. The commission members are: David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Michael Young, dean of the George Washington University Law School; Elliot Abrams, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former assistant secretary of State; Laila Al-Marayati, past president of the Muslim Women’s League; John Bolton, senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute and a former assistant secretary of State; Firuz Kazemzadeh, professor emeritus at Yale University and chief spokesman on external affairs for the American Bahai community; Theodore McCarrick, Roman Catholic archbishop of Newark, N.J.; Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, and Charles Smith, supreme court justice for the state of Washington and a former president of the American Baptist Churches.
Saperstein is chairman and Young vice chairman of the commission.
Robert Seiple is an ex-officio member of the panel in his role as ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Clinton appointed Seiple to the post, which was established by the same bill instituting the commission, in January. He formerly served as head of the Christian relief organization World Vision.
The panel has met privately three times, a spokeswoman for Saperstein said.
Enactment of the legislation establishing the commission was the result of a long and often contentious struggle to adopt a measure intended to alleviate the persecution of religious adherents in foreign countries. Its passage came after the White House, major American businesses and some religious organizations, such as the National Council of Churches, opposed previous versions.
Adoption of the bill came after a more stringent anti-persecution measure sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., passed the House easily but failed to gain support in the Senate. Sen. Don Nickles, R.-Okla., introduced the alternative eventually adopted without dissent by Congress. Nickles made a series of changes in the bill in order to gain bipartisan support and to prevent a Clinton veto.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission was among a broad array of organizations that worked for passage of the bill. Other organizations supporting the Nickles legislation included CLS, Anti-Defamation League, National Association of Evangelicals, U.S. Catholic Conference, Episcopal Church, Christian Coalition and American Jewish Committee.
It is estimated more followers of Christ have died for their faith in the 20th century than in all the 19 previous centuries combined. Those cited most frequently as countries where religious persecution persists include the Sudan, China, Vietnam, Iran, Cuba, Pakistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Laos and Burma.
CLS named University of Missouri law professor and religious liberty specialist Carl Esbeck as McFarland’s replacement. The ERLC has joined CLS on numerous briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court.