Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column

October 6, 1997

US shouldn't cast stones with Religious Persecution
By US Representative Ron Paul

For a long time I have advocated getting rid of the Export-Import Bank. It is unconstitutional for the federal government, using your money, to be subsidizing the risky business ventures of corporations. And often, these ventures involve giving large sums of money and aid to oppressive foreign governments, like China.

So I suppose I could say I have good news and bad news this week. The good news is, the Ex-Im Bank no longer exists. The bad news is, Congress just changed its name - but the unconstitutional functions remain, despite the fact the bank is now technically out of "authorization." According to the legislation which created the corporate welfare mechanism we know as the Ex-Im Bank, the organization had to be re-authorized by midnight, September 30. But because of partisan wrangling over who is the bigger violator of campaign finance laws, the re-authorizing legislation was not considered. So while Congress will likely vote the bank back into official existence this week, for at least a couple days we are technically without Ex-Im.

The Congress did vote, as an amendment to the Export-Import re-authorization, to rename the organization the "United States Export Bank," or USEX. Subsidizing big corporations is unconstitutional and violative of the laws of free-market economics, no matter what Congress calls the mechanism. Those who are addicted to corporate welfare have no need to worry; USEX will be doing the same thing as Ex-Im.

For several weeks there has been a lot of talk about a piece of legislation entitled the "Freedom from Religious Persecution Act." And while it is not yet coming to the floor for a vote, it is worthy of discussion at this time as some are referring to this legislation as a panacea to the problems faced by Christians and others living under totalitarian regimes. On its face, the legislation is innocuous enough; after all, who can be against stopping religious persecution? After reading the legislation as it is being proposed, I cannot help but wonder who is persecuting whom. This legislation calls for a whole new bureaucracy to be created at the White House, giving the president broad new powers to determine what is and is not persecution, and to impose sanctions against those countries he finds offending.

The legislation cites for its justification not the Constitution, but various international agreements. It then authorizes the president to take action, without the approval of Congress, against countries he thinks are violating rights to religious freedom.

In addition, the legislation prohibits federal agencies and U.S. persons from exporting goods to citizens within countries whose governments either engage in or tolerate "religious persecution." There is great concern from many in the religious community that these kinds of restrictions would prohibit American missionaries from taking Bibles and humanitarian items into those named countries - the opposite of what needs to occur if we seriously want to see positive changes in the nations persecuting their citizens for religious reasons. Several issues arising from this proposed legislation warrant discussion and debate, including constitutional authority and the morality of rights "swapping."

Religious persecution in any form is reprehensible, but especially when it takes on a violent face. It was for this reason our Founding Fathers insisted upon a Bill of Rights which prohibited our federal government from interfering with religious exercise by persons within the United States. The Constitution, however, does not provide the federal government the authority to police the world at taxpayer expense.

Neither, of course, does the Constitution allow us to subsidize foreign governments through such taxpayer-supported entities as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, OPIC, Ex-Im/USEX or any number of other vehicles through which the U.S. Congress sends foreign aid to a large number of countries (including those who engage in religious persecution). It is time we stopped both policing the world, and funding the totalitarian thugs of planet.

As to the effectiveness of trade sanctions reforming human rights records, the trade embargo imposed on Cuba for the past thirty years serves as a good example of the lack of the effectiveness of such a policy. According to Father Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest who recently discussed this topic in the Wall Street Journal, American missionaries operating in offending countries actual favor economic relationships over isolation, and see engagement as the policy most likely to bring about positive change.

While basic human rights must include free religious exercise, those rights must also include the right to associate with others. To prohibit individuals from the U.S. from meeting and trading with the individual citizens of foreign countries - in the name of "protecting" human rights - is inconsistent with the goal we all hope to achieve. It is only by changing the hearts of those nations' leaders that religious persecution will end. And it is only by allowing our missionaries and businessmen unfettered access to those countries that we will see those leaders influenced for the better.

Perhaps the most important flaw to this legislation is the basic presumption that the US government should be meddling in the affairs of other governments. Under our Constitution, we as individuals have the right, and I would argue even a moral obligation, to right wrongs in the world around us;, but our government, under the Constitution, has no such authority. What if England had had a law like this in place in 1993 during the Waco debacle? How would we as Americans have reacted when the British government banned all our goods from being sold in the United kingdom because of the actions of our federal government against a religious minority? We would have been outraged. Can we expect less from anyone else? I think we should be very careful about casting stones.

It is ironic that the same federal government which killed innocent children at Waco for their parents "odd" religious beliefs, now proclaims itself ready to judge the world's nations on their religious tolerance.

Ron Paul represents the 14th District of Texas. His office may be contacted at 203 Cannon, Washington, DC 20515.