After months of uncertainty, Congress reauthorized the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Friday, just hours before it was set to shut down for good.
The House of Representatives easily passed a two-year reauthorization bill back in September that scaled back USCIRF's budget from $4.3 million to $3 million and cut the number of unpaid commissioners from nine to five. But the reauthorization stalled in the Senate after Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) placed a secret hold on the bill.
After several temporary reauthorizations, the Senate unanimously passed a modified form of the reauthorization bill on Tuesday. Durbin added a stipulation to the bill that limits USCIRF commissioners to two two-year terms; that means seven of the nine current commissioners will have to leave the panel within 90 days. Durbin's amendment also reportedly included a proposal to buy an unused maximum security prison in Illinois and make it a federal facility.
The modified bill was sent back to the House, where it passed by a majority voice vote. The bill reauthorizes USCIRF until September 30, 2014.
USCIRF's effectiveness and necessity have been debated for many years. In 2002, CT featured two essays from contributors which highlighted the division: "USCIRF Is Only Cursing the Darkness" and "USCIRF's Concern Is to Help All Religious Freedom Victims."
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