Citing Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops are urging lawmakers act quickly to pass a bill that would reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, whose mandate expired yesterday. “At a time when international religious freedom is increasingly imperiled, it is vital that USCIRF be reauthorized so that it can continue to highlight the need to protect those who are discriminated against, harassed and even killed for their faith,” said Bishop Oscar Cant√∫ of Las Cruces, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace commission. The religious freedom commission dates back to 1998. It monitors the state of religious liberty and freedom of thought, conscience, or belief as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements. The commission makes independent policy recommendations to the president, the Secretary of State, and Congress. In December 2014, Congress passed a nine-month extension reauthorizing the commission, which then expired Sept. 30, 2015. Now, the body is asking for a four-year extension through the Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2015, Bill S.2078, which was passed unanimously in the Senate yesterday. In a Sept. 29 letter, Bishop Cant√∫ lauded the bipartisan collaboration of Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on bill S. 2078, calling their reauthorization of the commission “a welcome sign” in the midst of “partisan division.” “Protecting religious freedom is critical to the health of societies,” the bishop said, stating that over the years, the U.S. Bishops have been strong advocates for the protection of religious freedom worldwide. During his visit to the United States last week, Pope Francis called religious freedom “one of America’s most precious possessions” during his address at the White House. While in Philadelphia later in the week, the Holy Father called on Americans to defend religious freedom, “for it has been given to you by God himself.” “In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others,” he said. Now the bill goes to a vote in the House of Representatives. If passed there, it will go to President Barack Obama for his signature before it goes into effect. “In the wake of Pope Francis’ historic visit, I ask you to call for the protection of international religious freedom by passing S. 2078 to reauthorize USCIRF,” Bishop Cant√∫ said.
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