GOP tussles with administration over support for international religious freedom

Chaffetz went on to hold up a photo of Johnson Cook sitting on a panel with an Italian professor last year and pointed out that Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, Andrew Shapiro testified about piracy alongside non-governmental witnesses in April.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) defended the State Department, saying that when he was chairman of an Oversight subcommittee the George W. Bush Administration also refused to send officials to sit on panels with other witnesses, particularly on issues where they were likely to get a beating. He expressed hope that would change, however, calling the practice “frustrating” for Congress.

“Some of the agencies refused to sit alongside to Union officials who were called to testify, because of the adversarial nature of those positions,” he recalled. “There was also the fear that there would be cross-fire, which is entertaining for us but uncomfortable for the executive branch.”

Overall, the witnesses Thursday were indeed sharply critical of the records of the Obama administration — or its predecessors — in promoting religious freedom around the world since the law requiring the government to promote religious freedom was adopted under President Clinton in 1998.

“None of the three administrations responsible for IRFA [the International Religious Freedom Act] have adopted a robust view of the law and the policy it mandates,” testified Thomas Farr, who became the first director of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom back in 1999.

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