International religious-freedom efforts split on policies and structures

Published: Sunday, March 25 2012 6:54 p.m. MDT

The hesitancy at the State Department was visible at a November 2011 House oversight hearing chaired by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who specifically invited Ambassador Johnson Cook to address the hearing. He was told by the State Department that she could only do so if accompanied by another State Department official. This was an unusual request, sources say, given that Luis Cdebaca, the Ambassador-at-Large over human trafficking issues, routinely testifies on the Hill without a handler. The State Department declined to comment for this article.

After the awkward handling of the religious freedom ambassador, Rep. Smith's opening statement noted her absence. "Given the important responsibilities assigned to the ambassador-at-large pursuant to the IRF Act," he said, "including advancing the right to religious freedom abroad through diplomatic representations on behalf of the United States, our subcommittee looks forward to the opportunity to hear from Ambassador Johnson Cook when she is allowed to testify on her own."

With the apparent diminution of the IRF Ambassador, some IRF advocates argue, the ongoing importance of the external commission is doubly clear. But as with so much else, they disagree about what if any changes to its operations are in order.

Editor's note: This is the second of two articles on escalating threats to religious freedom and U.S. efforts to control those threats. Yesterday we outlined current problems and the competing values at home and abroad that make effective action difficult. Today, we survey U.S. policy responses since 1998 and outline why some religious liberty advocates question the Obama administration's commitment to the cause.

Read part one of the series: Religious freedom as a core human right: A three-sided, global debate

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