Federal Religious Freedom Board in Danger of Closure; Proof of 'War on Religion?'

The possible end to a religious freedom watchdog has Christians wondering if the United States is weakening its fight for religious freedom.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal government board, faces potential closure if Congress fails to approve its reauthorization bill by Friday, Dec. 16.

For USCIRF to continue to receive government funding, President Barack Obama and Congress must approve the organization’s reauthorization of government funding.

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USCIRF has begun taking steps to close its facilities, such as archiving records and “winding down” operations, Chairman Leonard Leo told The Blaze.

The commission, although it receives a relatively small $4 million federal grant every year, has received criticism for being excessive, especially in such dire economic times when the government needs to cut back on spending.

It has also been criticized for alleged biases, as seen in the 2009 complaint  filed by former policy analyst Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, who accused USCIRF of failing to renew her contract due to her Muslim faith.

Many conservative Christians argue that the closing of USCIRF is just a continuation of the Obama administration’s growing lack of respect for religious freedom.

The White House released a “Presidential Memorandum” on Dec. 6 urging all nations to observe lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and promote an LGBT agenda.

The FRC argues that Obama is supporting LGBT rights at the expense of religious freedom.

“The President is elevating homosexuality at the same time he is de-emphasizing religious liberty (another legitimate human right),” wrote the FRC.

Conservative Christians throughout the country have fought against the perceived shrinking scope of religious freedom, including Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry with his campaign commercial entitled “Strong,” airing in Iowa.

“As president, I will end Obama’s war on religion,” Perry says in the commercial.

Many fear the closing of USCIRF will continue to limit the government’s focus on religious plurality.

“The Senate needs to reauthorize USCIRF now, before the clock runs out,” USCIRF chairman Leonard Leo said during his testimony on the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report in Nov. 2011.

“Disbanding USCIRF would be a tragic blunder. It would signal to the world that the United States is retreating from the cause of religious freedom,” he added.

USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives, according to the board's website. The group says its primary responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

The commission is a result of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

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