The International Religious Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), lingered near extinction as lawmakers returned last month after their summer recess.

Supporters claim that new political strategies would revive the bill to passage, while opponents declare it moribund. "The reports avidly peddled by the administration that the bill is dead are overstated," says Hudson Institute's Michael Horowitz, a key figure in the campaign against religious persecution.

The Nickles bill was introduced in March (CT, May 18, 1998, p. 20) after the U.S. House had already considered passage of the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, commonly known as the Wolf-Specter bill after its cosponsors Rep. Frank Wolf (R.-Va.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Penn.). There had been talk of a possible merger of the two pieces of legislation (CT, Sept. 7, 1998, p. 27).

According to Senate staffers working for the Senate bill, Nickles believed that the Wolf-Specter bill's provisions for automatic sanctions against the worst persecuting countries would lead to fruitless confrontations, negative fallout on indigenous Christians and missionaries, and an America isolated from its allies. He also figured the Senate would never pass the Wolf-Specter bill.

Supporters of Wolf-Specter asserted that Nickles's alternative allowed the White House the option of doing very little in the face of religious persecution. Under the Nickles bill, the President could do as little as sending a private protest to the persecuting government.

Mistrust of the White House fueled intense resistance to watering down the sanction provisions against religious persecutors.

POORLY WRITTEN? The debate over the religious persecution bills ...

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