WASHINGTON — With religious minorities being killed and persecuted around the globe at an unprecedented rate, members of the U.S. Congress will soon be graded on their engagement in promoting legislation designed to bolster America's protection of international religious freedom.
In a Tuesday press conference at the National Press Club, the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative (21CWI) and former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., introduced the International Religious Freedom Congressional Scorecard initiative.
With 21CWI set to release its mid-term congressional religious freedom scorecard in June, America's federal lawmakers will be graded on an 'A' through 'F' scale on how actively and adamantly they fight to protect the religious freedoms abroad.
"The scorecard is not just about the vote, it's about sponsoring, it's about engagement, it's about participation," Lou Ann Sabatier, 21CWI's director of communications, explained at the press conference. "The majority of the activity that they are getting graded on happens in the process. Are they engaging dialogue? Are they introducing? Are they sponsoring? Are they causing? There is a fairness for everyone involved."
As the Open Doors 2016 World Watch List finds that more Christians and religious minorities around the world are being killed for their faith than ever before, Wolf, who is also a senior fellow at 21CWI, stated that the scorecard will allow voters to have an easy reference to keep tabs on how their representatives are standing for the protection of society's most vulnerable.
"It leverages the collective will of the American people expressed with the representatives in Congress. It is an educational tool. Individuals, people of faith, need to know how their representatives are working on this vital issue of religious freedom," Wolf said. "In fairness to the members of Congress, if they don't hear from the voters, they don't think their voters care. Using a scorecard helps those voters know how to share that they do care about religious freedom."
As the rise of radical extremist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Boko Haram in Nigreria are a large reason behind the increase in people killed for their faith, Sabatier explained that there are currently over 15 resolutions and three bills that have been introduced in the House that are designed to protect international persecuted communities.
Additionally, there are seven bills introduced in the Senate and one amendment that has been introduced. Although the number of measures that have been introduced to protect religious freedoms is drastically increased from two years ago, Sabatier asserted that the members of Congress don't seem to be uniting to pass the measures.
"What we are finding that is a lot of that activity, instead of coming together, everyone is introducing," she explained. "The reason you have such volume is that they are introducing their own versions. At times, they are actually competing against each other and there is not a coalescing or collaboration that we have seen in the past."
21CWI also plans to release a second religious freedom scorecard during the first quarter of 2017.
Os Guinness, an English author and founder of the Trinity Forum, participated in a panel discussion focusing on the planned congressional scorecard where he argued that an increasing secularism in the U.S. society has led to the country away from its founding roots of protecting the religious freedoms of all.
"I would argue as a European observer and admirer that the American way has been the most nearly perfect in history … the most nearly perfect solution in history, combining liberty with diversity and still achieving harmony. But because of the culture warring over the last 50 years that is rapidly going, as I see it, America is squandering a great heritage," Guinness argued. "Even the understanding of religious freedom here … has become viewed as something purely partisan and not a matter of first principles — often reduced to freedom of worship. The ignorance and the contentiousness that surrounds this issue today is a shame for anyone who understands your foundings."
Nina Shea, human rights lawyer and director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, said that the scorecard comes at time when international religious freedom is facing its biggest threat in decades.
"This is a critically important initiative," Shea said. "Protecting religious freedom has been at the heart and soul of the United States. At the same time, we are seeing the greatest peril posed to religious freedom since the rise of Nazism and communism. That is because of the rise and spread of radical islamists movements."
The panel also included Farahnaz Ispahani, a leading voice for women and religious minorities in Pakistan and the author of the new book, Purifying the Land of the Pure: Religious Minorities in Pakistan.
"I sincerely hope that the U.S. Congress and the executive branch can more actively [progress] an agenda to protect religious minorities internationally," Ispahani said. "I trust that a scorecard will help monitor Congress' performance in standing up to protect religious minorities. It is important for the United States to stand up for those targeted for their beliefs abroad."