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US Religious Freedom Staff Told to 'Wind Down' as Closure Looms

Staff working at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have been told to “wind down” because the commission may be about to close down.

USCIRF is a federal panel charged with monitoring the religious freedom of individuals throughout the world. It may have to shut down on Dec. 16, unless Congress can come together and pass a last-minute resolution to save it.

The commission has been saved two times from closure already this year, but unless a re-authorization bill is issued within the next week the commission will be forced to close its doors.

Leonard Leo, the commission’s chairman, has spoken with The Christian Post, saying that he contacted personnel Wednesday to instruct “staff to wind down operations because we don’t have any indication the Senate will pass the resolution.”

Yet this is not something that just came about; the commission “has been negotiating for months” over passing legislation that would keep the doors open but to no avail.

The USCIRF has been a leader in promoting religious freedom since its creation in 1998 with the International Religious Freedom Act. But the thought that it could soon cease to exist have some flabbergasted.

“It’s absolutely shameful…getting rid of the commission would send the wrong message,” Leo said. “Especially to those countries that are supported or support the United States intentions regarding religious freedom.”

Randolph Bell is the president of the First Freedom Center, which is a non-profit that is dedicated to the advancement of human rights and the protection of religious freedom.

“We highly value the international freedom act,” Bell told CP. The act was written to help monitor those who may face religious persecution, and to promote religious freedom as a foreign policy of the United States.

There are several organizations that are dedicated to ensuring religious freedom throughout the world including the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. But losing just one of these types of organizations would be detrimental to combating religious freedom because “all mechanisms are highly important,” Bell said.

This development comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech at a convention in Geneva in which she explained America’s desire to promote gay rights within counties with policies unfavorable to homosexuals.

If the stand-alone bill fails, Congress could keep the panel alive by funding it as part of an “omnibus” bill or by passing another continuing resolution.

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