Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Raising the Stakes in Battle for Religious Freedom Four US Lawmakers Ask Colleagues to Join Effort to Help World's Victims of Persecution

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Raising the Stakes in Battle for Religious Freedom Four US Lawmakers Ask Colleagues to Join Effort to Help World's Victims of Persecution

Article excerpt

A small bipartisan group of senators and congressmen has formed the Religious Prisoners Congressional Task Force, a new effort to combat religious persecution around the world. The lawmakers are urging their colleagues in both houses to "adopt" individuals imprisoned for their religious beliefs, and to take up their causes by appealing directly to international leaders to secure their release and change hostile policies.

"The idea is to intervene from the highest levels of the US Congress to the highest levels of the offending governments," says Rep. Joseph Pitts (R) of Pennsylvania, who co-founded the task force. "Each member can choose anyone they want to advocate on behalf of. We have lists from groups like the Freedom House, and Amnesty International that we'll make available."

Sen. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas, co-founder of the task force, says the need is immediate and critical. "The statistics are striking. About one-third of all minority- faith communities are forced to meet clandestinely in underground or secret group meetings," he says. "Most are nameless and lack advocates, yet they are the Sakharovs and Solzhenitsyns of their generation." The formation of the task force is not happening in a vacuum. Conservative Christians in Congress have made the fight for religious freedom worldwide a central piece of their agenda. And many liberal Democrats are just as committed to a campaign for human rights. On Monday, the House voted unanimously in favor of pressing the United Nations to condemn China for human rights violations, including restrictions on the free practice of religion. The nonbinding resolution comes just days after the Clinton administration decided it will "neither propose nor support" such a resolution at this year's session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Practical solution Sen. …

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