- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2012

The crowd stood below a monumental eagle and the words “In God We Trust” at a gathering recently in the grand foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building to address a visceral but oft neglected issue on Capitol Hill: religious freedom. Under the auspices of the bipartisan International Religious Freedom Caucus, such communities as the Coptic Christians of Egypt and the Assyrian Church of the East were recognized, both for the persecution they face and their tenacious faith traditions.

“Congress is a key ally in the fight to preserve religious freedom,” Suzan D. Johnson Cook, U.S. ambassador at large for international religion freedom, told the those assembled, who stood on tiptoes and clung to her every word.

The groups have allies. Many. Rep. Trent Franks is the passionate point man behind efforts to ask a basic question: Will the Arab Spring break the “cycle” of religious persecution? On Tuesday, the Arizona Republican introduced a resolution before the House calling for protection of the rights and freedoms of religious minorities in the Arab world, even as attacks against Iraqi Christians and other groups continue.

“This is a very critical time. Religious freedom is a litmus test of new governments, and it is critical to any working democracy. The world will be watching to see if true freedom emerges from the ashes of old regimes,” Mr. Franks tells Inside the Beltway.

Americans fiercely stand by religious freedom, he says. “But what we fail to do is measure the world by that matrix.”

The event featured exhibits and a certain brand of endearing, genuine civility among the diverse attendees. Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis, Florida Republican, Democratic Reps. Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Brad Sherman of California, plus Katrina Lantos Swett, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission of International Freedom, also were present to lend support and encouragement.

“We need to get the word out. These people need our help,” Mr. Bilirakis tells Inside the Beltway. “I have worked to condemn violations of religious freedom throughout the world. Unfortunately, this tragedy continues to persist.”

POST-AURORA MEDIA

The media remain under critical scrutiny after the Aurora shootings. Among headlines that tell all:

“Aurora shootings: Rush to inaccuracy” (San Francisco Chronicle), “Aurora shooting: the more we watch, the less we know” (The Guardian); “Reactions to the Aurora shootings: the wrong, the sad, the irrelevant” (Columbia Journalism Review), “ABC’s Brian Ross and a press that disregards reputations of those it covers” (Baltimore Sun), “Media swarms shooting story” (Chicago Tribune), “Time for Brian Ross to find a new job” (Mother Jones).

Keep in mind that ABC News, which drew the most criticism for attempting to establish a link between the tea party and shooting suspect James Holmes, still is dramatically marketing its Aurora coverage as “Tragedy in Colorado: Movie Theater Massacre,” using a splashy graphic with fuchsia letters that appear riddled with bullets, and a subtitle written on what appears to be yellow police tape.

DISPATCH FROM AURORA

“An Illinois man who placed 15 crosses near Columbine High School after the 1999 massacre there has returned to Colorado with 12 crosses for the victims of a theater shooting. Greg Zanis, of Aurora, Ill., began putting up the crosses Sunday on a hill across the street from the theater in Aurora. Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan arrived later, put his hand on a cross and said a prayer with Zanis. Hogan became emotional and embraced his wife. The crosses are white, about 3½ feet tall and made out of lumber. Zanis says he was swamped with requests to bring them.”

(From an Associated Press report.)

14K GOP

It’s getting downright Olympian. Republicans went for the gold and got it. The Romney Victory fund has accrued record-breaking treasure in June: We’re talking $39.2 million, according to the Republican National Committee, which adds that the campaign total now stands at $121 million, with $89.4 million cash on hand.

“The RNC has $20 million more than at this time in 2008 and over $10 million more than this point in 2004. We head toward November fully prepared to run an unprecedented ground game this election season,” observes committee chairman Reince Priebus.

THE TEA PARTY BREWS

Just as the critics whet their appetites for another round of vilifying the tea party, voila. Here comes the first annual FreePac, a hefty gathering of grass-roots conservative activists Thursday that is so large that organizers with Dick Armey’s fiscally conservative FreedomWorks will stage the event at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Some 20,000 are expected to attend the big doings, billed “the largest gathering of grassroots activists since the 9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington in 2010.”

Speakers include online media entrepreneur and host Glenn Beck, Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, U.S. Senate hopefuls Ted Cruz of Texas and Richard Mourdock of Indiana, Mr. Armey and FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe.

“The tea party movement has grown from a simple protest movement to a burgeoning political machine. It has translated grass-roots efforts into quantifiable results,” says Mr. Kibbe, author of the just released book “Hostile Takeover: Resisting Centralized Government’s Stranglehold on America.”

POLL DU JOUR

• 56 percent of U.S. men say they plan to work during their summer vacation this year; 47 percent of U.S. women agree.

• 30 percent expect to read work-related emails; 23 percent expect to receive work-related phone calls.

• 19 percent want access to their home computer; 18 percent expect to receive work-related text messages.

• 13 percent want access to their work computer.

• 13 percent expect to be asked by their boss, client or colleague to work while on vacation.

Source: A Harris Interactive/Team Viewer survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted in May and released Thursday.

Comments, cultural moments, complaints to jharper@washingtontimes.com.