Date: February 21, 2013
USA (MNN) ― Today the Venn Institute released the final International Religious Freedom (IRF) Scorecard grading all federal legislators on their prioritization of international religious freedom during the 112th Congress (2011-2012). Scored items include votes, sponsorship, and co-sponsorship of bills, resolutions, and letters that support IRF.
"Religious Freedom is core to the very essence of being human," said Lindsay Vessey, executive director of Venn Institute. "Federal legislators have the ability to help America lead in the protection and promotion of religious freedom worldwide through making public statements on various issues and cases, by passing bills in support of this freedom, and by exerting pressure in support of religious freedom in specific cases. Freedom of conscience and belief is of utmost importance to religious believers of all faiths, as well as to those of no faith. It should not be partisan, but something that all legislators strive to protect and promote."
A few key achievements in the 112th session include the reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (although with a much smaller budget), both the House and Senate spoke out clearly against persecution of the Baha'i minority in Iran, and the House passed a bill to create a Special Envoy for Religious Freedom in the Near East and S. Central Asia. This bill did not receive a vote in the Senate.
There was also a bi-partisan increase in members of the IRF Caucus which demonstrates a growing realization of the importance of international religious freedom. Congressional offices were informed which items would be scored throughout the 112th session, and this improved outreach and communication has resulted in greater engagement on IRF issue.
Six Representatives received A+ scores: Bilirakis - R (FL), Carter - R (TX), Franks - R (AZ), Hartzler - R (MO), Pitts - R (PA), Wolf - R (VA). Five Senators received A grades: Blunt - R (MO), Boozman - R (AR), Coats - R (IN), Cornyn - R (TX), Inhofe - R (OK). Notably, Republicans have taken a lead on this issue. Extensive bi-partisan outreach was conducted. In the 113th session of Congress, Venn Institute will focus on increasing Senate engagement on IRF issues as well as attempting to develop more bi-partisan support for IRF. View scores at http://www.venninstitute.org.
The purpose of this scorecard is to keep members apprised of the opportunities to support international religious freedom. It brings a measure of accountability and much needed credit to those who are making IRF a priority in their work.
"The International Religious Freedom Scorecard is an effective tool that has brought much needed awareness to the American public as well as accountability to federal legislators," said Dr. Thomas F. Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University. "Rather than focus on just recorded votes, this scorecard measures other meaningful ways in which legislators can promote International Religious Freedom such as through co-sponsorship of key bills and resolutions, as well as through membership of the International Religious Freedom Caucus. It is important to recognize the good work of those legislators making this freedom a priority and encouraging those who are not to become more active."