News Articles

Subcommittee OKs persecution bill; uncertainty exists in full committee

WASHINGTON (BP)??A bill aimed at thwarting religious persecution in foreign countries has cleared its first barrier to passage.
A subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee approved by voice vote a modified version of the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act Sept. 18. The legislation, as amended by Rep. Chris Smith, R.?N.J., chairman of the International Operations and Human Rights Subcommittee, still 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.
The amended version does not change the bill substantively but clarifies its purposes in response to some concerns expressed by House members, said an aide for Rep. Frank Wolf, R.?Va., the bill’s chief sponsor.
The new version includes language clarifying the bill will protect all religious believers, not just Christians; will not result in the displacement of other refugees in order to assist those who have been persecuted for religious reasons; and will not block loans and humanitarian aid that assist people instead of the government, said Anne Huiskes of Wolf’s staff.
A few Republicans have joined many of the Democrats on the International Relations Committee to voice concerns and make the bill’s fate in the full committee uncertain.
“We’re trying to figure out where we go from here,” Huiskes said. “The last two weeks (House) members primarily have been hearing from the other side,” instead of concerned Christians.
A date has not been set for mark?up by the full committee.
The new House version of the bill is H.R. 2431.