The Senate is set to re-authorize the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom for the next three years, in a compromise bill that has drawn charges of hampering its ability to do good work.
The re-authorization is found in an omnibus spending bill that was released Dec. 16.
The move was praised by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’s spokeswoman, who said, “The inclusion of provisions related to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020 is vital for continuing to advance religious freedom worldwide.”
She praised the “bipartisan compromise” that will “enhance its credibility and transparency.”
But the new omnibus bill clarifies that commissioners of the USCIRF cannot accept travel expenses from any non-federal source.
Kristina Arriaga, a former USCIRF commissioner, resigned from the organization in November, citing “a move towards more bureaucratic controls.”
“USCIRF's strength is derived from its independence, its nonpartisanship, and its nimbleness. It's good that USCIRF lives on but the reauthorization has seriously disabled its effectiveness,” Arriaga told CNA in an email.
Earlier this year, the Senate proposed bills that would have included further restrictions on what the USCIRF’s commissioners were able to do, and what they must report. Arriaga resigned in part due to these proposed policies.
“USCIRF needed reform and transparency, but instead of creating legislation stipulating qualifications required of staff and commissioners, Congress offers legal representation to the staff alone,” she added. This means that “the government becomes both partner and enforcer” and that those who do not “read from the script” of the government will be punished.
“The message from Congress is clear: Commissioners are no longer in charge of the Commission,” said Arriaga.