United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Freedom to Convert to Christianity?

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a US government agency based in Washington D. C. This federal bipartisan body was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments. The Commission is the first United States government commission with the sole mission of reviewing and making policy recommendations on the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom globally. It gives independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and the Congress. In gathering information to formulate those recommendations, the Commissioners or staff may meet with foreign officials and diplomats. Such meetings are always coordinated with the State Department. It describes itself as “[g]rounded in and informed by the American experience” and its original intention was to protect Christians around the world. Such organisations as Christian Solidarity International, International Christian Concern, Open Doors and the Cardinal Kung Foundation as well as the lawyer Michael Horowitz  were influences for the foundation of the International Religious Freedom Act.

It is funded entirely by the federal government on an annual basis and its staff members are government employees. The White House and congressional leadership appoint the Commissioners.

The State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom serves as an ex-officio, non-voting member of the Commission. Past Commissioners include Preeta D. Bansal, John Hanford, Khaled Abou el Fadl, Charles J. Chaput, Michael K. Young, Firus Kazemzadeh,  Shirin R, Tahir-Kheli, John R, Bolton and Elliot Abrams.


Dr. Aseem Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation brought out an interesting observation in 2009 in the Washington Post about the USCIRF: “Examine the makeup of the USCIRF: Six members are Christian, one is Jewish and one Muslim. Not a single non-Abrahamic faith is represented.” Could a Hindu, Buddhist, or Sikh Commissioner offer relevant cultural and religious insight and social and political context? Could he or she add balance, deepen the analysis, and dispel false assumptions towards the development of more well-rounded and sound U.S. foreign policies? Absolutely. But we’re just not “in” — yet. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suhag-a-shukla-esq/human-rights-and-religiou_b_856720.html

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