WASHINGTON -- As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was preparing to shut down, Congress reauthorized it for three years, but with reduced funding and fewer commissioners.
The Senate voted Dec. 13 and the House Dec. 16 to approve amendments to an appropriations bill that reauthorized the commission. But the commission's yearly budget will be decreased from more than $4 million to $3 million and the number of commissioners will go from nine to two.
Speaking to a House subcommittee Nov. 17, Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., who served on the commission from 2003 to 2007, urged Congress to keep the rights-monitoring agency alive and said its work must be given higher priority in foreign policy.
In his testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, Bishop Ramirez said that in practice, religious freedom discussions seldom make it into the public record in dialogues with key countries.