Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column
May 11, 1998
Is it freedom from religious persecution?
Proposed legislation doesn't pass constitutional, economic or moral muster

In the name of making the world safe from religious persecution, Congress will consider legislation which the politicians hope will make the planet safe for religion around the globe, at the American taxpayer's expense. The legislation is the "Freedom From Religious Persecution Act of 1997."

The "Freedom From Religious Persecution Act of 1997" proposes that a new office be created within the Clinton Administration, with the stated purpose to "provide for the imposition of economic sanctions against countries engaged in a pattern of religious persecution." Numerous issues arising from this proposed legislation warrant elaboration, discussion, and debate: constitutional authority, effectiveness of trade sanctions, rights "swapping," and the practicality of such an approach.

Religious persecution is a reprehensible form of force when committed by anyone. However reprehensible, though, the Constitution does not allow the federal government to police the world at taxpayer expense. The Constitution's framers argued for friendly commercial dealings with all nations and entangling alliances with none. Today, the opposite seems to be the order of the day. Of course, "friendly commercial dealings" was never intended to include the subsidization of foreign governments - including those engaged in zealous religious persecution - at taxpayer-expense.

Constitutional considerations temporarily set aside, it would be commendable if the legislation could at least be justified based upon some proven or demonstrated effectiveness of trade sanctions. The effectiveness of trade sanctions for reforming human rights records is, at best, unscientific and empirically unjustified. Harsh economic sanctions against Cuba for more than thirty years have done nothing to alter that nation's record on human rights or political bent.

While the right to free religious exercise absent interference from the state is an important right, it is not the only right. Any list of individual rights must also include the right to enter into voluntary exchanges with others. Removing trade barriers benefit consumers who can purchase goods more cheaply than previously available from those who have a comparative advantage in the respective good. Those individuals who choose, for moral or religious reasons, not to trade with citizens of particular foreign jurisdictions are, of course, not threatened by removing barriers for those who, for whatever reasons, choose to do so. Further, the right of United States citizens to travel freely, at their own expense, is also infringed upon by the portion of the bills limiting the availability of commercial flights.

One provision of the bill attempts to provide the President a kind of "Ultra-Fast-Track" authority to enter into multilateral international sanctions and legislative functions contrary to constitutionally-mandated processes. The Constitution, of course, requires treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate and reserves legislative powers to the Congress. In recent history, Presidents have avoided the two-thirds Senate majority hurdle by semantically re-labeling Treaties as agreements and passing some of them by with narrower margins of approval through both houses of Congress.

Obliterating religious persecution around the world is a noble and, I believe, well-intended pursuit. However, circumventing the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as well as choosing an economically-unproven means of doing so, is never an advisable method.