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President Trump signs legislation championed by the Knights of Columbus

12/11/2018

By Andrew Fowler
Vice President Pence greets Supreme Knight Anderson

Prior to the signing, Vice President Pence greets Supreme Knight Anderson along with Archbishop Warda, Congressman Smith and Ambassador Gingrich.

In the News

President Donald Trump signed legislation that will provide humanitarian relief for victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria, while holding ISIS perpetrators accountable, culminating years of advocacy, testimony before Congress and support from the Knights of Columbus.

The president emphasized the “despicable” acts committed by ISIS, adding this legislation “continues my administration’s efforts to direct U.S. assistance toward persecuted communities including through faith-based programs.”

“Today, we honor the memory of all those killed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq and we renew our sacred commitment to religious freedom,” President Trump said before signing “Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018.”

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, was present at the Oval Office ceremony along with Vice President Mike Pence, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil along with religious leaders, praised the legislation.

“Today shows the best of America,” said Supreme Knight Anderson. “Today, America gives hope to those who have endured horrific atrocities and persecution in Iraq and Syria. It gives the force of law to what we know is right. Vulnerable and suffering communities should be helped, the guilty should be brought to justice and future genocide should be prevented.”

The Knights of Columbus has worked with both chambers of Congress and with the last two administrations to bring about bipartisan change for persecuted religious minorities. The Order has collected evidence to make the case for genocide, raised funds to provide relief to victims and built new channels of communication between the religious minorities and the U.S. and international communities.

“With the legislation to be signed today, America speaks with both moral clarity and political unanimity,” Anderson said.

The Knights were an early supporter of the new law, which was authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and co-sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). The act was passed unanimously by the Senate on Oct. 11, and then in House of Representatives on Nov. 27.

“When genocide or other atrocity crimes are perpetrated, the United States should direct some of its humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid to enable these groups to survive–especially when they are minorities whose existence as a people is at-risk,” Smith stated. “The future of endangered religious and ethnic minorities targeted by ISIS for genocide, and pluralism in the Middle East, will depend on help from the United States.”

The act’s signing coincided with the celebration of International Religious Freedom Day.

What does the legislation do?
The legislation authorizes the “financial and technical” assistance for “humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery needs” for former and current religious minority residents of Iraq and Syria.

This assistance could come through the federal government or through entities, including faith-based entities that are providing support to address the recovery.

In addition, the legislation allows the State Department – in collaboration with other federal agencies – to conduct criminal investigations and apprehend individuals identified as alleged ISIS members, and identify warning signs of genocide and threats of persecution.

Vice President Mike Pence greeted attendees

Prior to the signing of the bill by the president, Vice President Mike Pence greeted attendees including Supreme Knight Anderson, Archbishop Bashar Warda (to the vice president's right), Congressman Chris Smith and ambassador to the Vatican Callista Gingrich (to the vice president's left).

Why is this important?
According to the State Department’s annual reports on international religious freedom, the number of Christians living in Iraq has drastically declined from an estimated 1.4 million in 2002 to fewer than 250,000 in 2017.

Meanwhile, Christian communities in Syria are “considerably lower” as a result of the ongoing civil war that began in 2011. Other agencies, such as Aid to the Church in Need, report that the Christian population has fallen from 1.4 million in 2011 to an estimated 450,000 today.

How have the Knights worked with the U.S. government on this effort?
In December 2015, Supreme Knight Anderson testified before Congress, urging the House Foreign Affairs Committee to “adopt a resolution recognizing that the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria, as well as other vulnerable communities facing genocide,” emphasizing these attacks preceded the rise of ISIS.

The Knights then provided a comprehensive report to the Obama Administration in early 2016 that recommended the State Department declare the persecution of Christians and religious minorities as a genocide. The recommendation was taken when then-Secretary of State John Kerry publicly issued a declaration in March 2016 stating ISIS’s “entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.”

Following the declaration, Supreme Knight Anderson testified before Congress on several occasions in 2016 at hearings titled “The ISIS Genocide Declaration: What Next?” and “Atrocities in Iraq and Syria: Relief for Survivors and Accountability for Perpetrators.”

The Knights’ efforts of encouraging the protection of vulnerable religious minorities as an official foreign policy initiative continued into the Trump presidency with Supreme Knight Anderson meeting with administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence. Vice President Pence pledged the government’s direct aid and thanked the Knights for their “extraordinary work caring for the persecuted around the world.”

In October 2018, the Knights commenced a joint effort with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in assisting religious minorities in the rebuilding and stabilization of their communities.

What else have the Knights been doing in the Middle East?
Since 2014, the Knights have allocated more than $20 million to aid Christians and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria to provide food, shelter and clothing.

Last year, the Knights committed raising $2 million to rebuild the liberated Iraqi town of Karamles after it was demolished by ISIS soldiers.

The Knights also worked in conjunction with the Trump Administration to defuse tensions between the Kurdistan and Iraqi governments that threatened a recently rebuilt Christian town.

What happens next?
The Knights will continue to support the efforts of providing humanitarian assistance to Christians at risk of persecution throughout the world. No Christian community is an island, isolated in itself. Every Christian is a member of the Body of Christ and therefore must never be forgotten.

To help persecuted Christians, you can donate here.

andrew.fowler@kofc.org