Coptic Solidarity Urges Senators Lee and Cochran to Remove Holds on Special Envoy Bill

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February 28, 2014 (Washington, DC) - For Immediate Release

Coptic Solidarity urges Senator Lee (R-UT) and Senator Cochran (R-MS) to remove their holds on Senate bill 653, which are the only measures currently preventing this important bill from passage.

The Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act provides for the appointment of a special envoy within the State Department whose responsibility would be to work on behalf of minorities in that region.

This initiative has been supported by a large group of NGOs dedicated to the issue, and nearly all federal legislators making these holds all the more ludicrous. Holding S. 653 is not an effective way to cut wasteful spending or unwieldy bureaucracy.

Some worry of duplication between a Special Envoy and the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom (IRF). However, the position of the IRF Ambassador, which is currently vacant, has not been given proper status or resources at the State Department previously. Coptic Solidarity also disagrees with arguments of duplication since the Special Envoy position would focus on protecting religious minorities in a specific region, addressing issues that result from their persecution, which are not a focus of the IRF Ambassador, such as socio- economic and refugee problems. This is the case for many Christians in the region who fled after being attacked or receiving death threats. Many Christians now have no way to earn an income, no permanent residence, and no options to educate their children.

Protecting against the creation of unnecessary bureaucracy is a laudable goal. Yet, it is asinine to block one small effort to support religious freedom for those suffering such extreme violence when it will create no additional cost, as the position would be funded by existing State Department monies and the bill does not authorize new spending.

The mass exodus of religious minorities from this region leaves some minorities in danger of becoming extinct. The crisis has deepened in countries such as Egypt, Syria, and Libya and it is imperative that US policy address the grievous violence, particularly since it has increased in countries after US involvement. The PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life released a new report this year stating that “The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012… and that the sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced this bill with original cosponsors Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). S. 653 has twenty two co-sponsors. The House version, HR 301, passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in a vote of 402 to 22.

Coptic Solidarity President, Adel Guindy noted, “Rarely do legislators have such a clear opportunity to support the American ideals of human rights and religious freedom. It would be a shame for these two Republican Senators to develop a legacy as the only legislators preventing further protection and help for religious minorities who are literally being cleansed from their homelands.”

Coptic Solidarity is non-profit organization dedicated to leading efforts to achieve equal citizenship for the Copts in Egypt.
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