A month ago, the U.S. Congress appointed Prof. Robert George and Dr. Zuhdi Jasser to serve as the new commissioners on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Speaker Boehner appointed George while Senator McConnell appointed Jasser. (The appointments were not without some controversy. An online petition against their appointments made the rounds accusing both of anti-Muslim bias through their organizational affiliations.) It still surprises me that the statute creating the USCIRF remains unknown to many Americans today. According to its website, the USCIRF “monitors and advocates for religious freedom abroad wherever that right is being abused. USCIRF also offers policy solutions to improve conditions at the critical juncture of foreign policy, national security and international religious freedom standards.” The Commission almost closed shop – it was given a last-minute reauthorization December 16 of last year by Congress and its mandate was extended up to 2018. Interestingly, there is a separate Office for International Religious Freedom within the State Department. The difference between the two is that the USCIRF is an independent federal government entity while the other works within the institutional framework of the State department. In any case, Canada, apparently the new constitutional powerhouse of the world, must think this office is a pretty good idea. Last January, the Conservative government announced the creation of an Office of Religious Freedom within the Canadian Foreign Ministry which would probably use its American counterpart as a model of sorts.
In this last post (thanks Mark and Marc for the guest stint!), I want to talk a bit about the history and implications of these official religious freedom promotion activities. Religious freedom has always occupied a special place in the pantheon of American freedoms. But the origins of this office are much more recent than what an ordinary observer might think. To be sure, Continue reading