Two Republican lawmakers introduced legislation to impose economic sanctions on countries where there's religious persecution. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., proposed a bill that would stop nonhumanitarian aid to countries persecuting religious minorities.
After meeting with a Tibetan Buddhist nun, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said they are committed to passing the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act. The nun recalled how Chinese soldiers tortured and raped her because of her religious beliefs.
Several conservative Christian leaders and the National Jewish Coalition support the bill. The Christian Coalition has declared that ending worldwide religious persecution is its top legislative priority. In addition to China, supporters singled out Sudan, Iran, Indonesia and Egypt.
The State Department is critical of the bill, saying it would limit its flexibility in combating religious persecution overseas.
The National Council of Churches urged Congress to look at the issue in the "larger context of religious persecution and human rights abuses." In a memo to the House International Relations Committee, the NCC applauded the bill for asking the U.S. government to report annually on religious rights abuses. But it criticized placing the religious persecution monitoring function in the White House, fearing it might fall prey to partisan political pressure. The NCC also said the bill's automatic sanctions are "overly simplistic."
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