February 21, 2017
Wilberforce A!ert: How Does Congress Score on International Religious Freedom? The Answer Might Surprise You
Today the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative is honored to release the International Religious Freedom Scorecard for the 114th session of Congress. This Scorecard illuminates the voting records of U.S. Senators and Representatives for bills, resolutions, amendments, and international religious freedom-related caucus work.
The International Religious Freedom (IRF) Congressional Scorecard is an educational tool and should not be perceived as an effort to support or endorse specific legislators or candidates. However, for a nation that prides itself as the first in the world to constitutionally enshrine religious freedom for all, the Scorecard is an important reflection of how legislators prioritize IRF with specific action.
After tallying the most comprehensive list of IRF-related items ever for a project like this, some results were unexpected, while others predictable. Here are three of the most important takeaways:
First, international religious freedom remains one of the few bipartisan issues. Thirty-nine Legislators scored an A, 44% of whom were Democrat and 56% Republican. Sixty-six Legislators scored a D, 38% of whom were Democrat and 62% Republican. At a time of intensified partisanship, it is critical to recognize that members across the aisle continue to join together in support of the many around the world whose deeply held convictions of conscience leave them vulnerable to physical assaults and killings, arrests and detentions, and ongoing discrimination in employment, education and housing.
Second, support of international religious freedom is geographically and religiously widespread and not anchored into any one particular geographic area or faith tradition. For example, the leaders who scored an A+ represent a wide diversity of states ranging from California to Florida and Arizona to Massachusetts. In nine states, both Senators demonstrated an above average commitment to action on international religious freedom: Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. International Religious Freedom maintains coast-to-coast support as well as diverse religious backing with above average supporters adhering to religious affiliations such as Baptist, Catholic, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Episcopalian, Islam, Judaism, Presbyterian and Unaffiliated.
Third, Congress can do more to prioritize international religious freedom. Overall, one-out-of-three legislators scored above average. However, this left the vast majority with grades that were average or below. Low scores do not necessarily indicate disagreement, but rather reflect that IRF was not a high priority for those members. The 115th session of Congress began only weeks ago. There is already ample opportunity for Congress to engage on IRF issues, as seven of the fourteen resolutions introduced in the Senate during the 114th Session have not come to a vote, nor have nineteen of the twenty-five resolutions introduced in the House during the last session. How legislators act on these resolutions in the coming months will have an impact on the 115th mid-term Scorecard that 21CWI will release in early 2018.
Few would deny that issues of international religious freedom are growing in urgency around the world. The question often remains one of prioritization. While the Scorecard celebrates and recognizes the good work of many on Capitol Hill, each one of us has a role to play. It is vital to remain deeply committed to support religious freedom for all, to maintain thoughtful conversations and carefully crafted bipartisan approaches, and to personally encourage ongoing proactive engagement.
Towards this end, two questions remain particularly relevant: how did your Senators and Representatives score, and how have you recently encouraged their support of international religious freedom?
2. Contact your Senators and Representative about your support of their efforts to maintain or continue to improve their grade in this critical area.
3. Share the Scorecard on social media.