Lankford, Colleagues Move to Reauthorize the US Commission on International Religious Freedom

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today joined Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jim Risch (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Chris Coons (D-DE) to introduce legislation to reauthorize the independent US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) through 2024. 

“The United States has the responsibility to call out religious persecution around the world. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom conducts crucial research and provides vital information on the status of religious liberty worldwide so we can ensure that religious freedom is protected and promoted for people of faith around the world,” Lankford said. “The right to practice any faith, change faiths, or have no faith is a fundamental human right of all people everywhere. It is vital that the US stand up for religious freedom and unequivocally denounce violence, oppression, and genocide against people of faith worldwide. I’m grateful for the continued work of USCIRF. We need their work to continue to help shine a light on bad actors who do not protect the unalienable human right of religious freedom for all people.”

“Freedom of religion is a God-given right afforded to all individuals. Our nation is blessed to have a constitution that protects this right and a proud tradition of defending this principle since its founding,” Rubio said. “Tragically, many around the world are deprived of this fundamental protection. Christians in Nigeria, Nicaragua, and Cuba, Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, Buddhists in Tibet, and many more risk persecution and even death because of their beliefs. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom plays a critical role in shining a light on religious freedom violations worldwide. I’m proud to lead my colleagues in this bipartisan effort so that men and women across the globe are fre e to safely and peacefully worship.” 

“As we bear witness to dangerous global trends toward authoritarianism and democratic backsliding, religious freedom, like other human rights, is increasingly imperiled worldwide,” Menendez said. “From China’s genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and horrific abuses against Buddhists in Tibet, to Iran’s totalitarian restrictions and undeniable violence against religious minorities, the United States’ action to advance and support free religious expression is more crucial than ever. Today’s reauthorization of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom reflects our enduring commitment to safeguard human rights, and I remain deeply committed to continue our work to build on and strengthen the ways the US government elevates the voices and causes of marginalized religious communities everywhere.”

“Religious freedom is increasingly under attack around the world,” Risch said. “The US Commission on International Religious Freedom is working to advance and protect the right to practice one’s religion of choice in peace and without fear. This reauthorization will allow USCIRF to continue promoting religious freedom globally and investigate violations, such as the genocide of Uyghurs in China, attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, and the persecution of Yazidis, Baha’is, Christians, and others in the Middle East.”

“The United States has a long tradition of promoting religious freedom abroad, and this Commission is dedicated to advising Congress and the Executive Branch about how to successfully ensure religious freedom is protected and that religion is not exploited to justify human-rights abuses,” Durbin said. “As the global refugee crisis worsens, the United States must do more to address the scourge of religious persecution, including holding perpetrators accountable and providing a safe haven to refugees. It’s heartening to see a bipartisan group of Senators come together on this pressing issue to ensure that the Commission can effectively fulfill its mission.” 

“I’m proud to support this legislation to reauthorize the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and continue the vital work to monitor and prevent the persecution of religious minorities around the world, “ Coons said. “From Uyghur Muslims in China to diverse faiths across Nigeria to those who practice no religion at all, there is a clear, urgent need for this organization and continued US leadership in championing human rights around the world. I’m glad to join a bipartisan group of my colleagues to introduce this reauthorization of USCIRF and reaffirm our commitment to international religious freedom.” 

Lankford has been a leader in advancing religious liberty around the world. Lankford recently received the Hero on the Hill award from Jeff King, President of the International Christian Concern (ICC), for his work to bring to light the persecution of people of faith around the world and his work to advance religious freedom. This summer, Lankford received the inaugural International Religious Freedom (IRF) Champion Award, presented by Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback under the Trump Administration. Lankford introduced a resolution to call for the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws around the world, which passed the Senate unanimously.

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) created USCIRF, an independent commission that monitors the right to freedom of religion internationally. The Commissioners of USCIRF are appointed by Congress and the President. USCIRF issues an annual report that assesses the US government’s implementation of IRFA, highlights “Countries of Particular Concern” engaging in severe religious freedom violations, documents the conditions of religious freedom in many countries, and provides policy recommendations.