(Washington) - This morning, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) successfully offered two amendments concerning religious freedom to the draft declaration of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Washington Annual Session.
“I am very pleased that these amendments passed,” said Co-Chairman Smith, Co-Head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA. “However, the fact that the first amendment passed by only 10 votes underscores the continuing challenge in the fight for religious liberties in the OSCE region. The fact that parliamentarians are willing to discriminate against minority religious communities is sobering.”
The first Smith amendment reads, “Commits to ensure and facilitate the freedom of the individual to profess and practice religion or belief, alone or in community with others, through transparent and non-discriminatory laws, regulations, practices and policies, and to remove any registration or recognition policies that discriminate against a religious community and hinders their ability to operate freely and equally with other faiths.” It passed with 33 votes in favor, 23 against, and 7 abstentions.
“The amendment is a basic statement of faith that all persons have the right to profess or practice, either alone or in community with others, the religion of their choice,” said U.S. delegation member Senator George Voinovich (R-OH). “All OSCE religious freedom commitments are founded upon this bedrock principle.”
“The passage of these amendments reaffirms the Parliamentary Assembly’s commitment to the principle of religious freedom for all,” said Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA). “It’s unfortunate that some parliamentarians felt the need to debate whether or not the Assembly should endorse these values. The close vote on this amendment shows much work remains.”
The second Smith amendment was adopted by a wider margin. It reads, “Welcomes the involvement and expertise of the OSCE/ODIHR Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief with technical assistance to ensure current or draft legislation fulfills all OSCE commitments on religious freedom, as well as encourages all parliaments to utilize the Guidelines for Legislative Reviews of Laws Affecting Religion or Belief drafted by the OSCE/ODIHR Panel when crafting laws or regulations affecting religious practice.”
The 317-member Assembly is the parliamentary dimension of the OSCE, whose primary task is “to facilitate inter-parliamentary dialogue, an important aspect of the overall effort to meet the challenges of democracy throughout the OSCE area.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
Media Contact: James E. Geoffrey, II