The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act has been revised so that countries engaged in religious persecution would lose all American assistance. The bill's earlier version called for trade sanctions against governments that persecute religious groups.

The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, known as the Wolf-Specter Bill after its cosponsors Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), calls for creating an Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring in the State Department. The office would issue annual reports and determine which countries engage in religious persecution.

Wolf says that the bill attempts "to highlight the most life-threatening kinds of religious persecution." The bill mentions "abduction, enslavement, killing, imprisonment, forced mass relocation, rape, crucifixion, or other forms of torture, and the imposition of fines or penalties that have a confiscatory purpose or effect" (CT, Aug. 11, 1997, p. 61).

NO SANCTIONS: Last year, Wolf found it a hard sell to get Congress to restrict trade as a way of punishing the Chinese government for its abuse of religious people (CT, June 16, 1997, p. 54). The Wolf-Specter Bill, Wolf says, now focuses on restricting government aid, not trade sanctions, to encourage change. The change is extremely significant, in part because some of America's largest trading partners, including China, receive nearly no U.S. foreign aid.

As the bill has been amended, it has been gaining support from across the political spectrum. It establishes two categories of religious persecution. The first involves direct government participation in persecution, while the second involves government inaction to eliminate persecution.

Under the revised bill, once the new State Department ...

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