Obama Has Stalled a Full Year in Appointing Religious-Freedom Envoy for Middle East

By Lauretta Brown | August 18, 2015 | 3:52 PM EDT

Coptic Christians just prior to being executed by Islamic State 

jihadists.  (Screenshot: YouTube.) 

 

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama has yet to appoint a special envoy to protect religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia even though Congress passed legislation over a year ago creating the post. Also, the White House currently has no information on when the post will be filled.

“We have no personnel announcement to make at this time,” Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, told CNSNews.com by email in response to questions about when the post will be filled and why there has been a long delay in filling the position.

The level of persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East has only risen since President Obama signed the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act into law on Aug. 8, 2014.

Since the law was passed, ISIS has slaughtered thousands of Yazidis in Iraq, beheaded 21 Coptic Christians, and kidnapped hundreds of Assyrian Christians in Syria. 

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.  (AP)

 

The 2014 law created the post of Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. The legislation passed overwhelmingly in the Senate by voice vote and unanimously in the House.

The measure was introduced in the Senate by Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and then-Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.). It was sponsored in the House by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

The envoy’s duties would include promoting “the right of religious freedom of religious minorities in the countries of the Near East and the countries of South Central Asia, denounce violations and recommend appropriate U.S. government responses to violations.”

The envoy would also “monitor and combat acts of religious intolerance and incitement targeted against religious minorities in countries in the Middle East and south central Asia,” and “work with governments in those regions to address laws that are discriminatory toward religious minority communities.”

“As we continue to witness disturbing violence against religious minorities in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, I’m pleased both chambers of Congress have passed this bipartisan bill to demonstrate that the U.S. takes religious freedom very seriously,” Blunt said in a statement at the time of the bill’s passage.

“I urge the president to sign this bill into law quickly and appoint a special envoy to promote religious freedom among all persecuted religious communities in these critical regions,” said Blunt in 2014.       

“With enactment of this legislation, America is appropriately stepping up its response and will be more capable in providing aid to religious minorities,” said Rep. Eshoo last year.  “A special envoy at the State Department will focus on the freedom and survival of religious minorities. Time is running out and this critical problem deserves to be treated as a high priority.”

Under the leadership of Eshoo, 43 members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama in April 2015 urging him to “move swiftly to appoint a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia, as the law states” given their “grave concern regarding the recent persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East.”  

"Any president of the U.S. has more than a full plate 24/7, but I think that our bipartisan, bicameral letter will urge him to help move it up on his agenda," said Eshoo at the time.

Eshoo is a Chaldean Catholic and first generation American with an Armenian mother and Assyrian Christian father from Iraq.

Religious freedom advocates also petitioned Obama in April to fill the post, sending him a letter signed by 22 leaders, including National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson and Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Central Florida, and by more than 30 groups, including Coptic Solidarity, the Chaldean Community Foundation, International Christian Concern and the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.


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