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The Brunson doctrine

Politics | Could the United States improve global religious freedom by tying it to aid dollars?
by Harvest Prude
Posted 11/14/19, 05:10 pm

WASHINGTON—For several months in 2018, U.S. sanctions gutted the value of Turkish currency as Turkish authorities held American Pastor Andrew Brunson on phony charges. The United States lifted the sanctions once Turkey released Brunson, WORLD’s 2018 Daniel of the Year, in October of that year, proving U.S. economic pressure can be an effective tool in getting countries to uphold human rights. Now the U.S. government might start conditioning foreign aid more often on how much a country protects religious freedom.

The proposal, first reported by Politico, would apply to U.S. humanitarian and development aid and possibly military assistance. Two anonymous White House officials told Politico that the idea is still in its early stages.

“It’s our stated policy—going back to the International Religious Freedom Act … that [religious freedom] should be a priority,” said Tony Perkins, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “This is a logical step to communicate that.”

Such a policy could shake the United States’ relationships with countries with poor human rights records. But human rights advocates said it would simply get the executive branch to act consistently with existing laws. Those rules, enacted by Congress, recommend—but do not usually require—the president to consider human rights violations in distributing aid or imposing economic penalties.

For example, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 mandates that the State Department reduce nonhumanitarian aid to countries that ignore or facilitate human trafficking.

In 2015, Congress added an amendment to another law, the Trade Promotion Authority, encouraging presidential administrations to consider religious freedom when negotiating trade agreements. And the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 allows a president to impose economic sanctions on foreign nationals who seriously violate human rights. It also allows the United States to block their access to U.S. property and revoke their U.S. visas.

White House officials could use the USCIRF annual report to set up a similar framework for applying economic pressure to religious liberty violators. The report ranks countries in tiers according to their record on religious freedom and recommends penalties against egregious violators. Saudi Arabia and China—both key trading partners with the United States—rank as top-tier countries known to severely restrict religious freedom.

Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and a former chairwoman of USCIRF, said most presidents have taken advantage of the “opt-outs or workarounds” in existing laws because “we have multiple agendas in countries we deal with: national security interests, or anti-terrorism interests, or economic ties. There’s a reluctance to compromise those other interests in the pursuit of human rights.” But she added that religious freedom advocates believe “when we effectively advocate for other governments to do better on human rights, we make the world a safer place for us, as well.”

In September, President Donald Trump gave a speech to the United Nations in which he noted that “80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where religious freedom is in significant danger or even completely outlawed. … Americans will never tire in our effort to defend and promote freedom of worship and religion.”

Lantos Swett said there’s no guarantee each instance of withholding aid to religious liberty violators would produce results, “but when there’s a price to be paid for trampling on human rights, trampling on religious freedom—governments will think twice and consider modifying their behavior or moving in the right direction.”

Associated Press/Photo by Staton Breidenthal/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Associated Press/Photo by Staton Breidenthal/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Michael Bloomberg fills out paperwork to appear on the presidential primary ballot in Arkansas at the State Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., on Tuesday.

2020 update

Two more Democrats are looking to join an already crowded field of presidential hopefuls as party moderates fret about the glut of candidates on the left.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed paperwork to appear on Democratic presidential primary ballots in two states but has so far stopped short of formally announcing a bid. He ruled out a run earlier this year but decided to reevaluate because he didn’t think the current candidates could defeat President Donald Trump. The billionaire media mogul applied to appear on the ballots in Alabama and Arkansas, which have early deadlines for candidates to file paperwork. He said he would focus a potential campaign on the slew of states that hold primaries on Super Tuesday, which takes place on March 3, rather than on the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick also announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination on Thursday. Patrick plans to file paperwork first in neighboring New Hampshire. So far, he lacks the name recognition and political apparatus to ramp up a campaign elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Mark Sanford decided to end his short-lived primary challenge to Trump, citing the impeachment inquiry against the president. The former congressman and governor of South Carolina said the impeachment debate would overshadow the main issue on which he planned to build his candidacy: government spending. —Anne K. Walters

Associated Press/Photo by Patrick Semansky (file) Associated Press/Photo by Patrick Semansky (file) Rep. Peter King on Capitol Hill in Washington

Moving on

U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York has become the latest Republican to announce he will not run for reelection in 2020. The 14-term congressman and former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee is the 20th Republican to announce plans to retire at the end of this term. King said he decided to spend more time with his family.

Democrats had placed his district in Long Island, N.Y., high on a retirement watchlist of suburban areas where President Donald Trump’s unpopularity has opened a path for potential Democratic gains. —A.K.W.

Associated Press/Photo by Nati Harnik Associated Press/Photo by Nati Harnik Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (left) and Sen. Bernie Sanders in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Friday

Campaign promises

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders pledged to give freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a prominent role in his potential administration as she hit the campaign trail with him last week in Iowa. The independent senator from Vermont told ABC News in a joint interview with Ocasio-Cortez that she would play a “very, very important role” in a Sanders administration.

“I don’t know of any person, who in the course of less than one year, has had more of an impact on American politics as a freshman member of Congress than she has,” Sanders said, pointing to her advocacy on environmental and economic issues.

Ocasio-Cortez, who endorsed Sanders last month, helped bring out large crowds for Sanders at rallies in Iowa over the weekend. —A.K.W.

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 11/15/2019 10:30 pm

    AOC and Bernie endorsing each other. Wow!  THAT is sure to make a difference in how I vote. [roll-eyes]

  •  Cdh's picture
    Posted: Mon, 11/18/2019 04:05 pm

    "... proving U.S. economic pressure can be an effective tool in getting countries to uphold human rights" ... Can you say quid-pro-quo deaux? This is a time when negotiation equals cause for indictment.