By Matt Hadro
Religious liberty advocates hope a new congressional scorecard will embolden members of Congress to promote freedom for embattled religious minorities worldwide.
“We know that religious liberty is more than just freedom of conscience. It touches everything from national security to trade policy to the fundamental values of what it means to be an American,” said former congressman Frank Wolf, announcing the creation of the Wilberforce Initiative’s International Religious Freedom scorecard. The initiative promotes religious freedom abroad as a “fundamental human right.”
“I am hopeful that the scorecard will be a tool to provide encouragement, an opportunity to increase awareness and advocacy,” he continued, “and to support the cause of religious freedom in the House and the Senate.”
The scorecard, introduced at the National Press Club on Feb. 2, will measure the participation of members of Congress in promoting international religious freedom, chiefly through legislation and caucusing. It will be released twice a year.
“It leverages the collective will of the American people expressed through their representatives in Congress,” Wolf explained.
“Individuals, people of faith, need to know how their representatives are working on this vital issue of religious freedom. In fairness to members of Congress, if they don’t hear from their voters, they may not think their voters care.”
Members will be rated for sponsoring, co-sponsoring, or voting for bills and resolutions approved by the Wilberforce Initiative. A prime example of this legislation would be the H. Con. Res. 75, a concurrent resolution introduced in September calling ISIS atrocities inflicted on Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities “genocide.”
That resolution, while not legally binding, would put pressure on the administration to declare that genocide is taking place and give priority to genocide victims looking to come to the U.S. as refugees.
There are currently only 175 co-sponsors of the resolution, aside from its two original sponsors Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), out of 435 House members, Wolf noted.
“This has been around for months,” he said, noting that religious leaders like Pope Francis, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Pastor Rick Warren have all referred to the atrocities as genocide.
“And yet we do not see this being brought up in the House, in the Senate, nor in words coming from the administration,” he said.
However, members won’t just be ranked on their votes or sponsorship of legislation, since bills can take months or even years to move through Congress. Wilberforce will monitor their membership in caucuses like the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus and the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus.
These groups promote information and advocacy on behalf of persecuted religious minorities and persons targeted for their beliefs.
And actions that can’t be ranked in a system, like “engaging in dialogue,” will be taken into account as well although they won’t be listed on the scorecard, Lou Ann Sabatier of Wilberforce Initiative explained. “We also know that there are countless ways that members and their staff work behind the scenes to advance the cause of religious liberty,” Wolf said.
The issue is so important because so many around the globe are persecuted for their beliefs, panel members insisted at the press conference introducing the scorecard.
Religious minorities worldwide are threatened by a “communal majoritarianism,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, journalist and former member of Pakistan’s National Assembly. This is especially evident with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Europe, Christians persecuted in the Middle East, North Africa, China, and North Korea, and the persecution of both Muslims and Christians in India and Myanmar, she said.
The percentage of Christians as part of the total Middle Eastern population fell from 20 percent at the start of the 20th century to just 5 percent now, she said. In Pakistan, religious minorities made up 23 percent of the population before the 1947 partition, but now they are only 3 percent of the populace.
“I trust that a scorecard will help monitor Congress’ performance in standing up for oppressed religious minorities in every part of the world,” she said. “The current practice of ignoring violations of the principle of freedom of belief for strategic or political reasons neither sets U.S. foreign policy objectives, nor does it represent America’s lofty principles.”
Religious freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, is one of America’s founding principles, Wolf insisted, quoting President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 Constitution Day address that the document was a “covenant” with “all of mankind.”
Religious liberty continues to be a covenant, Wolf said, a “covenant with Sister Diana in Iraq today,” the Iraqi nun who testified before Congress about the brutal persecution of Iraqi Christians by ISIS.
“We know how important religious freedom is. It supports human dignity, social cohesion, independent thinking, and the ability to authentically live lives that pursue truth, justice, and mercy,” he said.