The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has a new chairman, and for the first time, the position will be held by a Catholic priest.
Jesuit priest Fr. Thomas Reese was first appointed to a two-year term as a member of the commission by President Barack Obama in 2014, and re-appointed in 2016.
Now he will take over as the chair of the organization, an independent, bipartisan commission that monitors and reviews religious freedom violations around the world, and makes policy recommendations to the Secretary of State, Congress and the president.
“I am honored to serve as USCIRF's Chair and work with my fellow Commissioners in support of freedom of religion or belief,” said Fr. Reese in a statement.
“World events underscore the importance of this fundamental right: A key factor in many of the United States' foreign policy challenges, religious freedom is under serious and sustained attack across much of the globe,” he added.
Created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, the commission issues annual reports on the state of religious freedom around the world, and names countries that are guilty of severe religious freedom violations during the previous year. It also holds public hearings and conducts fact-finding missions to aid in its efforts.
In taking over as chair of the body, Fr. Reese replaces Princeton law professor Dr. Robert George.
Fr. Reese serves as the senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter. Previously, he served as editor-in-chief at America Magazine — a publication of the Jesuit order — from 1998-2005 and its associate editor from 1978-1985. Fr. Reese also was a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center from 1985-1998, and again from 2008-2013.
In his time at America, the Vatican raised issues with several articles published at the magazine, including some on abortion and homosexuality. Fr. Reese resigned from the publication in May 2015.
This week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also appointed two vice-chairs: Dr. Daniel Mark, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University and visiting fellow in the Department of Politics at Princeton University; and Dr. James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, and Managing Director of Zogby Research Services, which conducts specialized public opinion polling within the Arab world.
Mark had been reappointed as a member of the commission Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in May 2016, and President Barack Obama has reappointed Zogby in May 2015.