WASHINGTON—A handful of House lawmakers gathered on Tuesday for a hearing to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians around the globe.
Expert witnesses testified about dire situations in countries ranging from Nigeria to India and even Mexico and other countries not commonly associated with persecution. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., convened the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing, because Christians “remain the most persecuted religious group in the world.”
“This is surging in a way that is, I think, unprecedented in human history,” Smith said.
The panel heard first from Francis Chullikatt, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Mission at the United Nations, who detailed abuses around the world and urged vigilance from Americans. He said even in the West there have been subtle movements toward discrimination and persecution of Christians: “No one is exempt.”
Elliot Abrams, commissioner for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), thanked the lawmakers—all Republican—for “demonstrating concern and solidarity” that will lift the spirits of persecuted Christians, such as Saeed Abedini, around the world. Abrams said U.S. administrations, Republican and Democrat, have failed to use the leverage provided in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which gives Congress a variety of options to pressure foreign governments and specific officials who violate religious freedoms.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Colo., asked Abrams if American companies doing business in foreign countries help bring about reforms for oppressed minorities—a claim the business community maintains is true. “It has had no positive impact on international religious freedom,” Abrams said. “We did a lot of business with Nazi Germany, too, in the 1930s, and that didn’t do much good.”
Abrams said what does work is direct pressure from the U.S. government, since many poor and undeveloped countries are desperate for U.S. investment. He said most of those countries will do what it takes to remain in good standing with the United States, so it’s up to American officials to make religious freedom a priority.
Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration chastised the Obama administration for allowing the State Department’s ambassador for religious freedom post to remain vacant for the past several months. Suzan Johnson Cook resigned in October after 30 months on the job, and Abrams said the position needs to be filled. At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, President Barack Obama pledged to nominate someone soon, but the slow reaction continues a trend at the State Department during Obama’s time in office.
“What’s the holdup? It’s a revelation of priorities,” Smith told me afterward. “We need an ambassador at large who understands the issues, will travel, will be an intervener. … We have a no-show on religious freedom.”