Special Religious Freedom Envoy Post Still Empty 10 Months After Obama Signed Law; White House Non-Committal

By Penny Starr | May 31, 2015 | 6:25pm EDT
From North Africa to Pakistan, minority Christians often face harassment and persecution at the hands of governments, militant Islamic groups, or both. (AP Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Almost 10 months since Congress overwhelming passed legislation creating a special envoy to protect religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia, the White House has no news on when the post will be filled.

“I have no personnel announcement to make at this time,” a spokesman for the National Security Council told CNSNews.com via email when asked when or if the post will be filled.

President Obama signed the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act on Aug. 8, 2014. His administration earlier opposed the measure, calling the move unnecessary and duplicative of efforts already underway.

The NSC spokesman said the Obama administration has helped Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.

“The United States is committed to the safety and security of minority communities around the world,” the spokesman said. “When ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] encircled thousands of Yazidis and threatened to exterminate them last year, it was the United States that stepped in to beat back the militants and provide relief to besieged communities”

“In addition to our humanitarian support, the U.S. military also recently came to the assistance of Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria who were under imminent threat from ISIL,” the spokesman said.

At the time of the bill’s passage, one of its co-sponsors, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), expressed a sense of urgency.

“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.

“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,” Blunt said.

The law calls on the envoy to:

--Promote 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;

--Monitor and combat acts of religious intolerance and incitement targeted against religious minorities in countries in the Middle East and south central Asia.

--Work to ensure that the unique needs of religious minority communities in those countries are addressed, including economic and security needs; and

--Work with governments in those regions to address laws that are discriminatory toward religious minority communities.

In a letter to Obama last month, arranged by the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, religious freedom advocates and groups urged him to fill the post, the Religion News Service reported at the time.

The letter cited the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East and South Central Asia, including rape, torture, kidnappings and killings of Christians and other religious minorities.

“The persecution and even eradication of religious minorities in the Middle East right now is the biggest humanitarian and national security crisis that we face,” said one of the signatories, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore. “There is a moral imperative to do everything we can to advocate for imperiled religious minorities.”

The letter was 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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