USCIRF religious freedom panel adds members

Baptist Press
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Posted: Mar 30, 2012 5:52 PM
USCIRF religious freedom panel adds members
WASHINGTON (BP) -- The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) gained three new commissioners the week after losing five of its nine members.

The commission, a congressionally approved watchdog on global religious liberty, announced the following appointees, the first two March 26 and the other March 28:

-- Robert George, jurisprudence professor at Princeton University and a former member of both the President's Council on Bioethics and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights;

-- Zuhdi Jasser, a physician and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which advocates for liberty rather than the establishment of an Islamic state.

-- Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights, which carries on the legacy of her father, the late California Rep. Tom Lantos.

Speaker of the House John Boehner appointed George to the commission. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell named Jasser. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid selected Swett.

USCIRF is a bipartisan panel chosen by the president and congressional leaders that advises the White House, State Department and Congress on the condition of religious freedom overseas. Among its responsibilities is to recommend to the State Department governments that it believes should qualify as "countries of particular concern" (CPCs), a designation reserved for the world's worst violators of religious liberty.

Five USCIRF members were required to go off the panel March 22 under a new law. The commission's congressional reauthorization, enacted in December, mandates term limits for commissioners. Among those whose service ended was Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Land began his service in 2001 but was off nearly a year before being reappointed to the commission in 2005.

The other commissioners whose service ended were Nina Shea, Felice Gaer, Elizabeth Prodromou and Don Argue. Shea had served on the commission since its establishment in 1999, while Gaer, Prodromou and Argue had been on the panel since 2001, 2004 and 2007, respectively.

USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo welcomed the new commissioners and expressed gratitude to the commissioners who left the panel the previous week.

Speaking for the current USCIRF members, Leo said in a written release that they "commend our departing colleagues ... for their years of committed service as . We are grateful for their powerful advocacy of religious freedom as humanity's first freedom, and for their dedicated work in advancing USCIRF's mission."

The other commissioners still on the panel are Azizah al Hibri, William Shaw and Ted Van Der Meid. Leo's service will be terminated May 14, however, under the new law.

The 1998 law that created USCIRF calls for the president to select three members of the panel and congressional leaders to name the other six.

USCIRF -- the first commission of its kind in the world -- has played a major role in bringing attention to the persecution of Christians and other religious practitioners.

The commission issued its annual report March 20 and called on the State Department for the first time to designate Turkey and Tajikistan as "countries of particular concern." USCIRF also recommended 14 other countries for CPC designation: Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

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