Washington (CNSNews.com) - President George W. Bush has already condemned the human rights abuses of Sudan's civil war, which has claimed more than 2 million lives in the past 18 years.
And the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a measure this month to send $10 million to the struggling southern rebels, most of whom are Christians trying to fend off militant Islamics from the north.
While the struggle for control of the country's oil reserves has captured little attention in the United States, some conservative foreign policy experts say Bush's long-term approach to Sudan's holy war will have a ripple effect on the way religion shapes his foreign policy.
"Surely, Sudan is going to be a litmus test for religion in foreign policy," said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, at a conference Monday hosted by the Ethics and Public Policy Center here.
Shea joined 2000 Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer and Oklahoma University political science professor Allen D. Hertzke on the conference's panel to tout the policy center's latest book, a compilation of foreign-policy essays entitled "The Influence of Faith: Religious Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy."
The panel generally applauded the new administration's faith-based approach. "President Bush, in the five months he has been in office, has done more than President Clinton ever did," Shea said. "He has used his bully pulpit to preach religion."
But the panel challenged the Bush administration's soft-handed - Bauer called it "scandalous" - approach to China, which it said has tightened religious-freedom mandates and destroyed Christian churches.
The panel questioned the Bush administration's decision not to block Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympic Games, despite China's heightened restrictions on religious freedom. This "raises concerns that religious believers who attend the Olympics will not be able to practice their religion there," Shea said.
But, mostly, Monday's discussions revolved around the Sudanese conflict, which the panel called a microcosm of worldwide religious persecution that largely targets Christians.
"The scale of killings is genocidal," Shea said, noting many of the victims die of starvation. "It is a faceless situation, in a sense, because they're not well-known. They're from the bushes. They're not lawyers or elites or journalists."