Religious Freedom Group Accused of Discrimination

February 18, 2010

In what can only be described as the pinnacle of ironic situations, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom—created in 1998 with the mission of monitoring religious freedom and discrimination around the globe—is now entangled in an EEOC complaint which alleges that the commission terminated the contract of one of its policy analysts over her religious beliefs and ties to religious advocacy groups. The analyst, Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, alleges that she was not hired after the completion of her initial 90 day contract because of her religion (Ghori-Ahmad is a Muslim) and affiliation with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (an American organization dedicated to developing leaders with the purpose of enhancing the political and civic participation of Muslim Americans). Additionally, the EEOC complaint discusses the fact that Ghori-Ahmad’s work was strictly monitored during her time with the commission, and that she was not allowed to work on issues regarding Pakistan—one of her areas of specialty.


Read the whole story here.

Why does the Commission on International Religious Freedom exist and what does it actually do?

Composed of nine members, six researchers, and a small support staff, its job is to ensure religious freedom around the world by researching religious discrimination abroad, taking fact-finding trips, holding public hearings, writing an annual report, making policy recommendations and putting out news releases. Recently, the Commission did extensive work condemning textbooks used by a Saudi-run private Islamic school in Northern Virginia, claiming that the textbooks promoted a radical interpretation of the Muslim belief structure. While most external experts agreed with the Commission’s report on this topic, the report—combined with allegations of discrimination—brings to light several questions about the activities of the Commission.


First, why has the commission not investigated claims of religious discrimination regarding the minaret ban in Switzerland? As an organization that is mandated to examine all claims of religious discrimination, it sure seems that they spend a great deal of time investigating claims of discrimination against Christians, and quite a small amount of time dealing with discrimination against other faiths.


Second, why does an organization with nine commissioners, six researchers, and a small support staff need an annual budget of $4.3 million? Granted the commission does a great deal of field work, but even accounting for travel expenses, the sum seems like an exorbitant amount for such a small organization with a limited mission.


Finally, why is the organization exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests? None of the work that they do is classified and all of their reports are eventually published, yet it is nearly impossible for groups outside of the government to get any information about their current work. While it is typical for organizations created by Congress to be exempt, it is also because most organizations created by Congressional statute also deal with sensitive information.

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