Congressman Smith Receives Award for Helping Persecuted Religious and Ethnic Minorities in the Middle East
Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) will be honored with the 2017 IDC Cedars of God Award on Wednesday evening, for his policy work helping persecuted religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.
Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) was honored with the 2017 IDC Cedars of God Award on Wednesday evening, for his policy work helping persecuted religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.
The group In Defense of Christians (IDC) presented the award to Smith at its annual Solidarity Dinner on Wednesday evening, Oct. 25, at the JW Marriott in Washington, D.C. 500-600 religious leaders from the U.S. and the Middle East, members of Congress, and human rights advocates from around the country were present. Vice President Mike Pence was a key note speaker at the event.
“The exponential increase in the number of persecuted Christians worldwide today, begs a far more robust, effective and sustained response,” Smith stated. “We are at a tipping point.” Smith’s full remarks here.
Smith, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was honored by IDC for his leadership in passing legislation that aids Middle Eastern religious and ethnic minorities.
Smith was the author of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (H.R. 1150), signed into law in December of 2016. It made significant upgrades to the landmark International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
Smith’s bill significantly bolstered the State Department’s ability to advocate for the protection of persecuted religious minorities, and to promote religious freedom abroad.
It created a list of prisoners from around the world detained for their religious beliefs, required religious freedom training for all U.S. foreign service officers, and gave the Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom greater access to the Secretary of State. The law was supported by an ecumenical coalition of religious groups including and representatives of ethnic minority groups and NGOs.
Smith sponsored H.R. 390 (Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act). The House passed it unanimously in June and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed it unanimously on September 19. The Senate has taken no further action, despite the urgency on-the-ground for genocide survivors.
Last December, Smith led a delegation to Erbil – home to 70,000 Christians displaced by ISIS -- in the Kurdistan region of Iraq at the invitation of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil Bashar Warda.
At the camp in Erbil, the delegation met with genocide survivors, religious leaders, aid workers from the Archdiocese, officials from the U.S., other governments and the United Nations, as well as non-governmental organizations.
“We saw impoverished Christians rich in faith,” Smith said of his trip. “We also sat with Christians and heard stories of ISIS atrocities, the desecration of churches, the murder of young men who refused to renounce Jesus Christ, and sexual assault of women and girls.”
Smith noted that on the trip “we heard people declare their love for God despite it all – of resilient Christians radiating hope, faith, and charity in the direst circumstances.”
Smith has been a champion of religious freedom for persecuted religious minorities throughout his 19 terms in Congress. In addition to serving as the chairman of the subcommittee on global human rights, he is the chairman of the Helsinki Commission and co-chair of the China Commission, both of which focus on the promotion of international human rights as central to U.S. foreign policy. He has visited over 50 countries to advance human rights, speaking out against religious persecution and other human rights abuses like human trafficking and torture occurring in these countries.