Congress May Merge Efforts

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Rather than competing for congressional votes, sponsors of two religious persecution bills are discussing how to combine the measures (CT, May 18, 1998, p. 20).

The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act (the Wolf-Specter bill), designed to punish countries guilty of severe religious persecution, passed the House by a 375-to-41 vote. In July, both the Wolf-Specter bill and the more comprehensive International Religious Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), had been scheduled for full Senate consideration. But legislators put the brakes on further congressional action and began talks on possibly fusing the bills.

Groups that monitor religious persecution abroad are cautiously supporting a compromise. "We don't want to see Wolf-Specter watered down to where it doesn't have any teeth," says Keith Roderick of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights Under Islamization.

Karen Lord of the Helsinki Commission says, "When compared, Wolf-Specter is good for specific situations where religious persecution is most egregious. Nickles's bill takes a much broader view to get at the root of the problem."

Both lawmakers and religious groups say passage of some form of the legislation through both houses of Congress before the end of the year is critical.

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