Special Envoy for Religious Freedom
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I am writing to ask you to co-sponsor S. 1245, the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2011, which asks the President to appoint a Special Envoy for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. The bill was introduced by Senator Blunt and enjoys bi-partisan support. S. 1245 was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations in June, 2011. The House companion bill, H.R. 440, was sponsored by Representative Frank Wolf. It had 80 co-sponsors and broad bi-partisan support. H.R. 440 passed in the House with a vote of 402 "Yeas" to 20 "Nays in July, 2011. The Special Envoy will serve at the direction of the President of the United States and the Secretary of State with the authorization to represent the United States in matters and cases relevant to religious freedom in the countries of the Near East and the countries of South Central Asia. This area of the world has the most countries that actively persecute Christians. (See ODUSA World Watch List at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org) By creating a Special Envoy, the President will be appointing an expert on international religious freedom to directly address religious persecution in this part of the world for all minority faith groups. The Special Envoy would address economic and security concerns of these minority faith groups, which is especially needed in a country like Iraq where large numbers of Christians and other faith groups have been threatened, forced to flee their homeland, and even killed. These are the additional religious freedom issues that the Special Envoy would uniquely address that the Ambassador at Large and her staff in the Office of International Religious Freedom are unable to tackle in depth. I am concerned about the growing trend of religious intolerance towards Christians and other minority faith groups in this part of the world as it represents not only a human rights violation, but a national security issue. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has published research demonstrating that countries that restrict religious freedom are less prosperous and restrict other key freedoms such as freedom of the press and assembly. Many of the countries included in S. 1245 are facing increasing religious freedom restrictions as a result of new, more extreme Islamist governments coming to power in the so called "Arab Spring" countries. It is critical that the U.S. government support the protection of religious minorities in these countries for their safety and well-being, as well as to encourage these new governments to promote a freedom that will ultimately bring about stability and liberty for all. I hope you share my concern for promoting and protecting religious freedom and will both co-sponsor and vote "Yes" on S. 1245 when it is brought to a vote.
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