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Under Genocide-Designation Criticism, Obama Condemns 'Brutal' Persecution of Christians

ISIS prepares to behead Egyptian Christians along the Libyan coast in February 2015. (ISIS video)

President Obama issued a special Christmas statement to recognize “brutal atrocities” against Christian communities — just as his administration is under congressional criticism for reportedly planning to leave Christians out of a Middle East genocide determination.

“During this season of Advent, Christians in the United States and around the world are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. At this time, those of us fortunate enough to live in countries that honor the birthright of all people to practice their faith freely give thanks for that blessing,” said Obama, who is currently vacationing in Hawaii.

“Michelle and I are also ever-mindful that many of our fellow Christians do not enjoy that right, and hold especially close to our hearts and minds those who have been driven from their ancient homelands by unspeakable violence and persecution.”

Obama noted that “in some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent; this silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by ISIL.”

“We join with people around the world in praying for God’s protection for persecuted Christians and those of other faiths, as well as for those brave men and women engaged in our military, diplomatic, and humanitarian efforts to alleviate their suffering and restore stability, security, and hope to their nations,” the president said. “As the old Christmas carol reminds us: The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Obama’s statement doesn’t come without a political tie: House lawmakers today reached out to Secretary of State John Kerry about “persistent” reports that the administration may soon exclude Christians and other minorities in an upcoming genocide determination against ISIS that would only mention Yazidis.

The letter from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), signed by 29 other lawmakers, notes that when asked at a Nov. 4 hearing whether genocide is occurring in the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson just said “there will be some announcements on that very shortly.”

“The Committee has been seeking additional information from the Department of State since, but has received none,” the Congress members wrote.

On Dec. 7 the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) “call[ed] on the U.S. government to designate the Christian, Yazidi, Shi’a, Turkmen, and Shabak communities of Iraq and Syria as victims of genocide by ISIL.”

“To date, that call has gone unanswered,” the lawmakers noted. “We are gravely concerned by persistent press reports that the Administration is preparing a genocide finding that would apply only to Yazidis, and may avoid judgment about whether ISIL is also committing genocide against Christians and the other minorities it is eliminating. This would be contrary to the USCIRF finding, as well as a prominent member of the Yazidi community who testified before Congress last week that: ‘The Yazidis and Chaldo-Assyrian Christians face this genocide together.'”

“While it is hardly possible to overstate the brutality of ISIL’s attempts to destroy the Yazidis, an overly narrow finding would wrongly discount similar violence directed against other minorities in the region, with likely dire consequences for those minorities.”

Dominican Sister Diana Momeka, whose convent was driven out of Mosul, testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee this year that “the only Christians that remain in the Plain of Nineveh are those who are held as hostages.”

“At the hands of ISIL, Christians and other minorities have faced mass murder, crucifixions, sexual slavery, torture, beheadings, the kidnapping of children, and other violence deliberately calculated to eliminate their communities from the so-called Islamic State,” the letter to Kerry continues.

“Any genocide determination must reflect the full reality of the situation based on the best evidence available. Thirty prominent religious leaders and experts, many with deep ties to the region, wrote to you on December 4. They requested the opportunity to meet and provide you with extensive, detailed evidence regarding the fate of Christian communities under ISIL. In particular, they asked for the opportunity to demonstrate why the Administration’s reported misperception that Christians have the ‘choice’ to live by paying ISIL a protection tax (jizya) is ’emphatically not the case.’ We urge the Department of State to promptly acknowledge and accept this critical offer.”

The House members acknowledged that “an official genocide determination by the Administration is a rare and weighty occasion” – and “one that should include thorough consultation with Congress.”

“As Members of Congress, we will continue to insist that any genocide finding must reflect the actual experience of all minorities whose communities are being erased and whose families are being slaughtered because of their faith.”