The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is complaining about bias on the part of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an organization that was intended to counsel the US State Department on matter of international religious freedom. While I’m not entirely clear on all the elements of the ACLU’s complaints, I do support their view that the organization seems to have a strong bias against Islam, as I’ve noted over the years.
The USCIRF is capable of doing good work. And it’s not as if religious freedom isn’t an important issue. Rather, the issue is that the organization is working inconstantly, with unequal attention paid to and complaints made about different religions. Where the organization slams Islam or Islamic countries, it neglects to complain about similar activities conducted by other religious groupings. It finds objectionable practices within Islam that are unobjectionable in others.
The USCIRF nearly lost its congressional funding last year. As a creature of Congress, that would have put it out of business. Its funding was approved at the last minute.
A Look at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Dena Sher, Washington Legislative Office at 12:31pm
In 1998, Congress created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to draw attention to violations of religious freedom in other countries. The commissioners vote annually to list countries that are of particular concern or place others on a watch list of countries that should be monitored closely for religious freedom violations.
But, since its inception, the commission’s been beset by controversy. People who watch the commission closely say it was created to satisfy special interests, which has led to bias in the commission’s work. Past commissioners and staff have reported that the commission is “rife, behind-the-scenes, with ideology and tribalism.” They’ve said that commissioners focus “on pet projects that are often based on their own religious background.” In particular, past commissioners and staff reported “an anti-Muslim bias runs through the Commission’s work.”
The commissioners’ personal biases have led to sharp divides both within the commission and with the State Department, which it is supposed to advise. One expert calls the commission’s relationship with the State Department “adversarial,” and “not conducive to effective dialogue, let alone cooperation.” And the divisiveness within the commission itself is obvious, ranging from how it dealt with when a policy analyst claimed her contract with the commission was cancelled because she was Muslim to its most recent report in which five commissioners voted to include Turkey on the list of countries of particular concern (alongside a few others like China and North Korea) over the strong objections of the four other commissioners.