U.S. Congressman Introduces Legislation to Protect Access to Religious Workers
Washington, D.C. (April 10, 2014) - Leaders of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) applauded the introduction of the Freedom of Faith Act by Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) earlier today. The Foundation worked closely with Rep. Honda on the legislation, which permanently reauthorizes the Special Immigrant Non-Minister provision of the Religious Worker Visa program. The Religious Worker Visa program is considered essential to many faith communities in the U.S., particularly Hindus, who rely on the program for the continued vitality of their places of worship.
"Unlike other faiths, Hindus lack facilities in the United States to train priests and religious workers here," said Harsh Voruganti, Esq., HAF's Associate Director of Public Policy. "We depend heavily upon the Religious Worker Visa to effectively staff our temples and religious institutions."
In addition to Hindus, the Religious Worker Visa is used by Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Scientologists, and Jews.
"For over two decades, Congress has reauthorized this program time and time again." Rep. Honda stated. "It's time we do what's right for our communities of faith and make permanent this program that allows workers who lead worship, officiate events, and offer pastoral care, to receive temporary visas like ministers and faith leaders do."
Absent Congressional action, the Special Immigrant Non-Minister provision is scheduled to expire in September 2015. The provision has been consistently renewed by Congress every three years, but supporters argue that the constant need for renewal is inefficient and hurts houses of worship.
"Houses of worship, like businesses, cannot function in uncertainty," noted Padma Kuppa, a member of HAF's Board of Directors and a prominent interfaith activist in Greater Detroit. "It's difficult for a temple or church to make long-term management decisions when we don't know if this vital program will exist next year. The Freedom of Faith Act solves this dilemma."
The bill was introduced with nine co-sponsors and HAF urged other Congressional leaders to support the measure.
"Without access to clergy and houses of worship, religious freedom is meaningless," Voruganti added. "The Freedom of Faith Act will help ensure that individuals of all faiths will have access to trained religious workers and staffed houses of worship."