As USCIRF Faces Possible Closure, Funding Divides Religious Freedom Experts

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is preparing to shut down. Christianity Today January print issue.

As Chris Seiple sees it, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has operated with a lamentable approach: “name, blame, and shame foreign governments.”

That approach, in the president of the Institute for Global Engagement’s view, has kept the taxpayer-funded commission from making as big a contribution to the cause of religious freedom worldwide as it might have otherwise.

In a time of budget cutbacks, Seiple said he understands why some USCIRF critics advocate eliminating the independent commission—and its $4 million a year in federal funding. The office is preparing to shut down next Friday unless Congress passes a measure. After all, a separate federal Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) already exists at the State Department.

“[But] if you eliminate USCIRF, you send a terrible signal internationally that we are less concerned about religious freedom,” he said. That’s especially true, he said, given that the position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom—first filled by his father Robert Seiple—went unfilled for two years before Suzan Johnson Cook assumed her duties in May 2011.

Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, offers a more positive assessment of USCIRF.

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