WASHINGTON (RNS) — The House has passed a bill that would create a special State Department envoy for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia, where Christians have come under attack in recent years, particularly in Muslim majority nations.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., introduced the bill in January after a spate of violence against Christians in Iraq and Egypt, and in response to persistent concerns for religious minorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, among other nations. The bill passed on July 27 by a 402-20 tally.
“The U.S. government needs an individual who can respond and focus on the critical situation of religious minorities in these countries whose basic human rights are increasingly under assault,” said Wolf.
In March, for example, gunmen assassinated Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet. Bhatti had campaigned for changes in Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which prescribe the death penalty for anyone who defames the name of the Prophet Muhammad and have been used to justify religious discrimination.
“If the international community fails to speak out, the prospects for religious pluralism and tolerance in the region are bleak,” said Wolf, who has long argued that the State Department must make persecuted religious minorities a higher priority.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
— Lauren Markoe
© 2011 Religion News Service. Used with permission.
Posted Aug. 11, 2011