Weekly Columns

Religious freedom is a cornerstone of our society. The First Amendment guarantees American citizens the right to freely exercise their religion. This is a fundamental human right that, unfortunately, is under attack around the world.

Escalating violence across the globe has turned our attention to people being persecuted solely because of their beliefs. Nowhere is that more evident than in Iraq, where a growing group of jihadists who go by the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are bent on restoring the Caliphate and forcing everyone to live under Sharia law.

After claiming large swaths of land in Syria, ISIL began a gruesome march toward Mosul, Iraq, executing Christians and religious minorities, forcing people to convert to Islam, and attempting to eradicate all whom they deem as “non-believers” along the way. Houses belonging to Christians and other minority groups were tagged with derisive terms. The United Nations reported up to 200,000 Christians have fled their homes in Iraq because their lives are in danger. Most disturbing, ISIL has been carrying out mass murder of religious minorities in extremely gruesome and barbaric ways, including beheadings and crucifixions. ISIL is continuing its campaign of violence, harassment, and intimidation as it pushes toward Kurdish territory.

In an effort to protect both Americans in the region and the rights of religious minorities in Iraq, President Obama authorized targeted military strikes against ISIL. I support what the President is doing because we know who the enemy is, we know how they have behaved, and we know they must be stopped. However, we also must have a strategy that truly squashes the threat posed by this terrorist group and it must be a strategy that is designed by generals, not politicians.

It’s clear that ISIL has no intention to go down without a fight. The gruesome beheading of American journalist James Foley is evidence of that. ISIL is committed to brutally forcing its warped view on the Middle East and will likely not stop there. The group has indicated its intentions to attack the U.S. and, perhaps more frighteningly, has the resources and connections to terrorists with western ties to carry out those plans if left unchecked.

Protecting Americans and our interests abroad is reason enough to stop ISIL. We also have an obligation to promote religious tolerance. That’s why I’m pleased that Congress recently passed, and the President signed, the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act. This law requires the President to appoint a special envoy to promote religious freedom and monitor and combat acts of religious intolerance in the Middle East.

I’m also an original cosponsor of S.Res.530, introduced by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), which urges the President to reaffirm America’s commitment to religious liberty by helping to create safe zones for Iraqi refugees fleeing persecution, ensuring timely processing of visa applications from religious minorities, and working with the Iraqi government to ensure religious minorities are protected.

We must continue to press for religious freedom and tolerance worldwide. Citizens across the globe look to our country as a beacon of hope because of the rights afforded to our citizens. They deserve the same respect.