Congress Urged to Establish Special Envoy Protecting Religious Minorities in Middle East

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has called on Congress to pass a bipartisan bill seeking to establish a special envoy to the Middle East to promote religious freedom and protect minorities, and he condemned the recent deadly violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt.

"The continued violence against Coptic Christians and other civilians in Egypt is incredibly disturbing and flies in the face of the religious freedoms and fundamental values that Americans hold dear," Blunt said in a press release.

"I urge Majority Leader Reid to allow a vote on this bipartisan legislation, which would call attention to all religious minorities and demonstrate to leaders in the region that the United States takes religious freedom seriously."

The bill, S. 653 / H.R. 301, calls for the establishment of a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia, and asks for $1 million in annual funding from the Secretary of State's budget for Diplomatic and Consular programs.

As part of his or her duties, the special envoy would need to promote the right of religious freedom of religious minorities, denounce the violations of those rights, work with minorities and the foreign governments to address needs and concerns, and recommend appropriate responses by the U.S. government.

Blunt's bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), as well as U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

The bill follows reports of numerous attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt by Islamic protesters led by the Muslim Brotherhood, who are accusing them of helping bring down ousted president Mohamed Morsi. At least 70 churches have been burned down throughout the North African country, and the attacks have spread to Christian schools and bookstores, leading to a number of human rights organizations calling on government bodies to do more to protect Copts.

"Words are not enough. Yes, the United States – when we speak, it's powerful, but what also makes us powerful is the amount of funding we provide to the world and I think this is one of the opportunities we have to at least give this Muslim majority population and military, which we've had a pretty good relationship with, the opportunity to do the right thing," Jordan Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice executive director, said in a phone interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday.

The ACLJ has started a petition calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to demand that Christians are protected in Egypt in exchange for the foreign aid sent by the U.S. government.

The Obama administration has set-up a number of offices dealing with religious concerns, including the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives in August and a State Department working group on religion and foreign policy back in October, but some organizations, such as Christians United for Israel, are calling for a more direct response to the crisis situation in the Middle East.

"Events in Egypt this week highlight yet again the tragedy facing the Christians of the Middle East. Once again, Christians are being targeted for murder. Once again Christian schools, businesses and churches are being attacked. And once again, the world is largely silent," David Brog, executive director of CUFI, said in a statement on Thursday.

"This is a modern pogrom. The silence must end. The United States must lead. We must make it clear to the Egyptian government, the Muslim Brotherhood and the world that we will not ignore this tragedy. An important first step must be the immediate passage of H.R. 301, which would ensure that a top administration official will be focused on this issue at all times."

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