Rep. Diane Black: Washington Must Not Ignore Religious Persecution Overseas

Hussein Malla/AP
Hussein Malla/AP

The headlines are piling up.

A world away, Christians and other religious minorities face daily, worsening persecution and threats. Their alleged crime: freely expressing their faith.

While President Obama quibbles about the politest way to describe our enemies (see the White House summit on “violent extremism” that failed to mention “Islamic extremism”) and uses the National Prayer Breakfast to criticize Christianity for the events of nearly a thousand years ago, innocent lives are in danger in the Middle East and far corners of the world.

From the kidnapping and forced Islamization of Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, to the unjust imprisonment of Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, to the recent abduction of more than 200 Assyrian Christians at the hands of ISIS, there is a pattern forming of systematic religious persecution abroad that Washington cannot ignore.

Sadly, the White House’s apologist, politically correct tenor has seemingly blinded this administration to the reality of today’s religious persecution. When four innocent Jewish individuals were murdered at a deli in Paris last month, the president said they were killed “randomly” rather than in an act of blatant anti-Semitism.

More recently, when 21 Coptic Christians were martyred by ISIS in a video titled: “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross” – a clear indicator of these terrorists’ motives – the White House’s official statement made no acknowledgement of the very faith that these men died to uphold.

In 1998, Congress overwhelmingly passed the International Religious Freedom Act, making it the official policy of the United States “to condemn violations of religious freedom, and to promote, and to assist other governments in the promotion of, the fundamental right to freedom of religion.”

As the Obama Administration’s recent effort to cobble together a nuclear deal with Iran has shown, the legislation is limited in its reach. Still, if our stated policy is to stand with those who are persecuted because of their faith, maybe it is time to start acting like it.

For these reasons and more, I introduced House Resolution 139 – a measure strongly condemning the violence against religious minorities in the Middle East and reaffirming the United States’ commitment to promoting religious liberty and tolerance around the world. My legislation further calls upon the Obama administration to engage in this effort by appointing a special envoy to promote the freedom and safety of religious minorities in the Middle East.

Incidentally, Congress already enacted legislation to this effect in 2014 with the bipartisan passage of the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act. President Obama signed this measure into law and – in typical fashion – decided not to follow through with it. Perhaps it’s time we offer him a friendly reminder.

I know full well that a House resolution alone does not solve this escalating crisis, but we need to plant a stake in the ground and declare the will of Congress on this critical issue. We need sanctions against nations like Iran that allow this persecution to continue. We need a robust plan to eradicate ISIS and, as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s powerful speech to Congress reminded us this week, we need continued support for our allies like Israel that face grave dangers as they seek to live in peace in this unstable part of the world.

I am hopeful that this resolution will serve as a catalyst for these important conversations and compel Congress to take meaningful, concrete action on behalf of the innocent lives hanging in the balance.