By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — A religious freedom advocacy group said Feb. 2 that this summer it would issue a scorecard grading all members of Congress on religious freedom issues.
“You can flunk,” warned Lou Ann Sabatier, director of communications for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.
The point, though, Sabatier added, is for lawmakers to improve their grades. The first scorecard will be issued in July; Sabatier described it as a “midterm” grade, with a final scorecard coming out in January.
Sabatier said lawmakers will get “extra credit” for introducing and co-sponsoring legislation. They’ll even get credit for being a member of the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus.
Lawmakers may be able to get on the Wilberforce Initiative’s good side fairly quickly. Frank Wolf — a former member of the House who left Congress at the end of his 17th term last year to focus on religious freedom issues — said during the news conference that a bill was to be introduced soon that would establish a “protectorate” in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain for Christians.
Wolf added 70 percent of the world’s population, or an estimated 5.5 billion, live in a “religiously repressive situation.”
However, according to former Pakistani journalist and legislator Farahnaz Ispahani, even when complaints about religious restrictions reach the U.S. State Department, they are regarded as “internal issues” or even “soft issues.” What is on diplomatic radar in the case of her native country, she said, is “are they going to stop fighting with India?”
“It’s not as important as the nukes and the ‘boys with the toys,'” Ispahani said.
Sabatier said that, while the exact points of the grading system have not been worked out, “We will grade A, B, C, D and F,” and “we will grade on the curve.”
The organization is named after William Wilberforce, an English politician who fought to abolish the slave trade. Os Guinness, the English author and social critic, said at the news conference that “the family brewery” — founded in 1759, the same year as Wilberforce’s birth — had supported the abolitionist in his efforts.
Guinness said three questions loom large in the world: “Will Islam moderate peaceably in the future? What faith will replace Marxism in China? And will the West sever or reclaim its roots? Religious freedom is crucial for understanding how these three questions will be answered.”
Human rights lawyer Nina Shea, a Hudson Institute senior fellow, said the present day poses “the greatest peril to religious freedom since the rise of Nazism and communism.”
Shea also lambasted the U.S. response to the plight of Christians and Yazidis in Syria. In the federal fiscal year 2015, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 53 Christians and one Yazidi were admitted into the United States. For the first quarter of 2016, the numbers, according to Shea, are six Christians and no Yazidis.
Ispahani detailed how religious freedom can be constricted when absolutism goes unchecked. Using her native Pakistan as a model — she called it “a case study of everything that went wrong” — the first step is “Muslimization,” which she defined as “taking away a lot of the minority group.” At the time of the 1947 partition with India, Pakistan was 23 percent religious minority and today that number is 3 percent.
The second step is Islamization, to the point of textbooks erasing “anything having to do with another culture or faith” in the country, she explained.
The third step, Ispahani said, is the rise of militias, like the Islamic State in the Middle East and Boko Haram in Nigeria. “You’ve empowered people to think a certain way. People can be killed and be treated in the worst possible way” with no repercussions, she added.