On May 14, lawmakers in the House of Representatives passed a bill to combat religious persecution overseas, which would presumably give the United States new leverage against the anti-blasphemy laws and how they are used in Pakistan. But in Washington, it's never that simple.
The House passed the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, introduced by Rep. Frank Wolf last year, in overwhelming numbers, 375-41. A companion bill awaits action in the Senate, as does the International Religious Freedom Act, a late-round contender in the campaign against religious persecution introduced by Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles, the assistant majority leader. With endorsement from Foreign Relations committee chairman Jesse Helms, the Nickles bill is more likely to win passage in the Senate, meaning the persecution bills will have to be reconciled before a piece of legislation can be presented to the president, presumably sometime this summer.
Campaigners like Mr. Wolf still have momentum-and veto-proof numbers-on their side. "Passage of this bill sends a message to those around the world that are being persecuted for their faith that we are speaking out for them," Mr. Wolf said after the vote.
Not so fast. A lobbying coalition called USA Engage is wooing corporate interests and religious groups at home and abroad to oppose any kind of sanctions for religious persecution. The sources tapped include multinationals like Boeing and Caterpillar, along with religious leaders like the National Council of Churches and Billy Graham. What they have in common is a desire to maintain "access" to countries that persecute.
Mr. Clinton took opposition to the legislation one step further: He told the National Association of Evangelicals, in a White House meeting, that sanctions legislation "puts enormous pressure on whoever is in the executive branch to fudge an evaluation of the facts of what is going on," indicating the administration might lie about findings in order to avoid imposing sanctions (see WORLD, May 16).
Presaging by just six days the news that Pakistan had joined the nuclear club, Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan said Pakistan was "as close to testing nuclear devices as one is to a lock before putting the key in." But in a bold-faced proffer to the West, he said Pakistan might back off "if we are given those weapons which restore our military and strategic balance with India" and "if we are given economic aid." Those are the kinds of items the United States could deny Pakistan for its anti-Christian policies.
Under the House-endorsed bill, Pakistan's persistent laws against Christians would seem to qualify for sanction, such as losing certain kinds of U.S. aid. However, the president would have the power to waive any penalty if nuclear testing and a renewed arms race were at stake.