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The question came during a meeting of the newly formed U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The Commission had been established by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, and now, in its early stages, was feeling out the best way to pursue its congressional mandate. As discussion came around to the Commission's approach, one of the commissioners posed the question, "Are we to light a candle or curse the darkness? I assume we are to curse the darkness . …" No one questioned the answer. This was a critical moment, in which a corporate identity was being formed and the raison d'être of the Commission was being articulated. It was a critical moment — and cursing the darkness carried the day.

The Commission recently recommended to the Secretary of State that the U.S. designate 12 "countries of particular concern" under the 1998 act. Among these was the small, southeast Asian nation of Laos. The Commission's unjustifiable decision to recommend the censure of Laos is yet another chapter in its misguided agenda that emphasizes the punishment of religious persecution over the promotion of religious freedom.

This emphasis has it roots in the Commission's founding legislation, the contentious 1998 act — 18 months in the making — that established a State Department office and an annual report to Congress, along with a commission to provide oversight and independent recommendations to the President. The initial House version placed emphasis on punishing the offending nations. The Senate version shifted that emphasis to promoting this universal right, a shift that ultimately prevailed.

But why the quick acquiescence to "cursing the darkness" by the Commission? Very simply, the crafters of the 1998 legislation ...

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