USA should provide more help for persecuted Christians

Washington (CNN)Marco Rubio called on the State Department Thursday to provide more funding to help Christians persecuted abroad and to apply sanctions against governments that oppress religious minorities.

"Reports suggest that the State Department is ready to designate the Islamic State's terror against the Yazidis as genocide, which it clearly is, but they might not ... do so for equally embattled Christian communities. This is only one part of a refusal to come to grips with the full weight of these facts," the Florida senator and Republican presidential candidate wrote in a Christmas Eve Washington Post op-ed co-authored by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"We've all watched the news with horror in recent years as the Islamic State and other jihadist groups have led a ruthless religious cleansing campaign. Their tactics are to bomb churches or convert them to mosques, to violently drive Christians and other minorities from their homes, force conversions to Islam, or require compliance with Islamic apostasy and blasphemy codes. Such violent persecutions come not only from non-state terrorist organizations, but also from repressive governments the world over," the two wrote.

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"We need to recognize the importance of U.S. foreign assistance, which comprises less than 1 percent of our federal budget, in helping to support and protect Christian refugees fleeing persecution," they added. "Some of this assistance needs to be targeted to religious minorities who have been forced to leave their homes and are now seeking safe haven elsewhere in the region."

Rubio and Moore said their concerns go beyond those of Christians, but include other persecuted people of faith.

"We, of course, care deeply about defending our fellow Christians, but one does not have to share our religious conviction to see the moral obligation that belongs to us as Americans," the men wrote. "With our many blessings comes a duty to stand on the side of the oppressed, which is why a pillar of American foreign policy has always been moral clarity. Sadly, today that pillar is crumbling."

Rubio was one of several senators recently to introduce legislation to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body that monitors religious freedom abroad and makes recommendations to the president and Congress. The bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama in October.

"But as important as this commission's work is, it can only do so much without a president or State Department willing to take its counsel seriously," Rubio and Moore said in the op-ed.

President Obama has also spoken out about persecuted Christians, though not specifically referencing State Department funding. In a statement Wednesday Obama said he is praying for Christians being persecuted this Christmas by ISIS. And Rubio's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination have also targeted the issue.

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