USA*ENGAGE Calls on Congress to Consider Full Implications of Religious Persecution Legislation

Thursday, 18 September 1997

"Promoting religious freedom and tolerance is a goal shared by every American," said Frank Kittredge, President of the National Foreign Trade Council and Vice Chairman of USA*ENGAGE. "However, religious tolerance is best promoted by human contact and example -- in other words, by engagement. This legislation is a blunt instrument that could be counterproductive to the advancement of religious freedom. It is designed to force the automatic imposition of U.S. unilateral sanctions, regardless of whether they will lead to progress on religious freedom, and with no consideration as to whether they would harm other U.S. foreign policy interests."

USA*ENGAGE noted that Specter-Wolf's expansive definition of religious persecution could require the imposition of U.S. sanctions on longstanding American allies and trading partners such as Egypt, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Israel, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

USA*ENGAGE also pointed to the hardship that could be caused to American exporters and their workers by the likely denial of Export-Import Bank participation in U.S. transactions with targeted nations. Kittredge noted that over $20.3 billion in U.S. exports could be adversely effected, significantly contributing to the further erosion of America's image as a reliable supplier.

USA*ENGAGE also announced its opposition to the establishment of an "Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring" at the White House. "This bureaucrat would have the power to override the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Defense -- automatically imposing U.S. sanctions on any number of countries found to be tolerating persecution," Kittredge stated.

In addition to foreign policy and economic concerns, USA*ENGAGE pointed to the likelihood that U.S. sanctions could lead to more -- not less -- persecution of religious minorities by triggering a backlash against public and private American efforts to promote religious freedom, and consequently undermine the work of U.S. churches and missionaries.

"It is very troubling that the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act could seriously disrupt public and private efforts to promote religious tolerance by cutting off foreign assistance to many key U.S. allies, and by imposing counterproductive economic sanctions on dozens of countries. While this may be a well-intentioned effort, it will not succeed in advancing the goals of the bill's sponsors," continued Kittredge. "It is a clear, however, that this is yet another example of legislation utilizing sanctions when they are the wrong tool. America can best champion respect for religious tolerance through leadership, diplomacy and engagement."

USA*ENGAGE is a coalition of 645 small and large businesses, agriculture groups and trade associations working to seek alternatives to the proliferation of unilateral U.S. foreign policy sanctions and to promote the benefits of U.S. engagement abroad.


Contact: Eric Thomas at 202-822-9491