By unanimous votes, Congress has approved a bill that wouldallow the United States to respond when persons in other countries are persecuted for their religious beliefs. To become law, the document now needs only the signature of President Bill Clinton, who has declared he would sign it.
The legislation is the product of a bipartisan effort spurred by the Episcopal Church. Both sponsors of the bill, Sen. Don Nickles (R-Oklahoma) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), have praised the church for its work in winning support.
"The Episcopal Church brings tremendous credibility and commitment to the issue of religious persecution abroad," Nickles said in a statement earlier this month. "I am grateful for the Episcopal Church's key leadership, building the bipartisan momentum needed to pass this bill."
Representatives and senators heard extensive testimony on and about the victims of religious persecution. In recent months bishops from Pakistan and Sudan have described how Anglicans in those countries have been tortured and beaten.
The bill requires the president to take one of a broad range of options currently available under U.S. law--from private diplomatic protest to certain economic sanction--to respond to countries engaging in religious persecution. It requires consultation with religious communities, here and abroad, prior to undertaking action to ensure that any U.S. response will help, not harm, the religious minority on the ground. It also calls for training U.S. Foreign Service officers and immigration officials to increase awareness of religious persecution.
Conservative Christian groups pushed for a more stringent bill in the House, but their efforts met tough resistance in the Senate. The Episcopal Church built a broad coalition of support that included not only Episcopalians and the Christian Coalition, but also Catholics, Southern Baptists, Reform and Orthodox Jewish groups, Lutherans and many others for the more moderate bill crafted by Nickles and Lieberman.