(EWTN) — Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, who served as the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, has been appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Glendon told EWTN News on May 29 that she was “deeply honored” by the appointment, “particularly at this moment when religious liberty in all its aspects is in special need of defense at home and abroad.”
The appointment, made by U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was announced on May 23.
A law professor at Harvard University, Glendon has written extensively on political theory, human rights and comparative constitutional law.
She served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See from 2008 to 2009 and has also served as a member of the U.S. President's Council on Bioethics. Glendon is also the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
In her new role, she will work to call attention to religious liberty violations around the world.
Created in 1998, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom advises the president, State Department and Congress on the status of international religious freedom. Its members are appointed by the U.S. president and Congressional leaders from both political parties.
The commission identifies countries that abuse religious liberty in an annual report and recommends that specific nations which tolerate “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom be designated as “countries of particular concern.”
The work of the independent, bipartisan commission has been hailed as a critical tool in fighting religious freedom violations across the globe. A 2009 study by Pew Research Center found that about 70 percent of the world’s population lives in a country with significant restrictions on religious liberty.
However, despite its significant work, the commission was nearly forced to close its doors late last year when its funding authorization was set to expire.
A political maneuver by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate, repeatedly prevented a reauthorization bill from coming to a vote until just hours before the commission was scheduled to go out of existence.
Although Congress was able to reauthorize the commission at the last minute, Durbin amended the final bill to impose travel restrictions on the commissioners and limit their terms. In addition, the budget for the commission was significantly reduced.
Critics argued that these restrictions will decrease the effectiveness of the commission and weaken the message that the U.S. is committed to defending religious freedom around the world.
Religious liberty has also become a heated topic within the U.S., as controversy continues over a federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The mandate has been criticized by numerous groups and individuals who warn that it threatens their constitutionally-protected freedom of religion.
While Glendon has been an outspoken critic of the mandate and its consequences within the U.S., her new appointment will deal with religious freedom in the international community.
Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, executive director of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, welcomed news of Glendon’s appointment.
“Given her remarkable depth of knowledge, experience, and commitment, I am confident that she will be a great asset to our Commission and its mandate,” she said.
Wolcott said that Glendon would play an important role in helping to “advance the cherished right of freedom of religion or belief around the world and support its integration into our country’s foreign policy and national security strategy.”