The U.S. Senate has agreed on a compromise for the reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as funding for the congressionally mandated watchdog body is set to expire this month if Congress does not act.
The 2020 omnibus package was released by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday. Included in the legislation is language to reauthorize USCIRF for three years as it faces expiration at the end of the week.
“Pleased to report that we have reached a bipartisan compromise on our bill to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) & it will pass this week,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio vowed in a tweet.
USCIRF is a volunteer commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act to monitor religious freedom violations worldwide and make policy recommendations to the White House, State Department and Congress. USCIRF also advocates for religious prisoners of conscience worldwide.
Objections were raised this year in response to a bipartisan standalone bill that would have provided USCIRF with $4.5 million in funding for the next four years.
Current and past USCIRF commissioners — one of which resigned in November — criticized language in the bill they feared would have changed the scope of USCIRF to also monitor “abuse of religion to justify human rights violations.” The bill would have also created more oversight and rules on commissioner travel and public engagement.
As a result, the legislation was pulled and questions were raised about the future of USCIRF. The commission is funded on a continuing resolution that expires at the end of the week.
“The mandate expansion was the biggest concern,” USCIRF Commissioner Tony Perkins, a prominent social conservative activist, told The Christian Post Wednesday.
“We would not only promote and track religious freedom internationally but was a modification of our mission to begin policing religion in many ways. That would dilute our effectiveness and our focus. So, we were glad that it was removed.”
Perkins said it took a lot of work and negotiation but the language included in the Senate spending package has “finally gotten to a place where we think it is OK,” Perkins said.
“There was a lot of language in there that are in our operating procedures that are really unnecessary for the statute but we do it already,” Perkins explained. “In the negotiations, we yielded to that in exchange for taking some stuff out that was more onerous and I think restricted the ability of the commission in terms of its effectiveness.”