One of the cornerstones of our great nation is the protection of religious freedom for all. Our Founding Fathers believed this was important to the future of our country and they made it clear, guaranteeing American citizens the right to freely exercise their religion in the First Amendment of the Constitution. We can be proud of establishing this precedent that inspires citizens across the world because not everyone is as fortunate. Look no further than the violence in Egypt. Coptic Christians are being targeted and blamed for the military crackdown against Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the party supporting ousted president Mohammed Morsi, after the Egyptian military removed him from power in July. The Muslim Brotherhood singled out Christians as the sole cause of the uprising and have launched attacks against them often times with law enforcement doing nothing to stop the violence. Since mid-August 73 churches and monasteries, as well as 22 church service buildings like orphanages and schools have been damaged or entirely destroyed. In addition, more than 200 private Coptic Christian properties have been attacked, and seven Christian deaths have been confirmed by the head of the Coptic Cultural Center. The injustice is apparent throughout Egypt. Time Magazine recently reported “buildings have been tagged ‘Boycott Nesaara,’ an Arabic term for Christians that’s taken on a derogatory air.”
This is unacceptable. Targeting citizens based on their religion cannot be tolerated and the international community must speak out. That’s why I have consistently cosponsored legislation introduced by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt that would promote and protect religious minorities in Egypt and across the Middle East. The Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act would require the Department of State to create a special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East. This new envoy would be responsible for promoting religious freedoms and monitoring and combating acts of religious intolerance.
A similar measure in the U.S. House of Representatives has more than 60 bipartisan cosponsors and passed overwhelmingly during the 112th Congress, but unfortunately, the Senate didn’t act on the bill. Christians in Egypt and religious minorities in the Middle East deserve our support. I encourage Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow a vote on this bipartisan legislation to demonstrate our commitment to religious freedom. The United States embraces religious tolerance. It is a bedrock of the foundation of this nation and it is something we continue today. When the Senate resumes business in the chamber, it begins with a prayer. As the diversity of religion grows, the practice of the Senate evolves and has included leaders of other faiths. We need to encourage the same religious tolerance worldwide.