Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, as Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk, the U.S. representative to the anti-Islamic State coalition, testified before the committee. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, as Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk, the U.S. representative to the anti-Islamic State coalition, testified before the committee. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke) (Lauren Victoria Burke / AP)

Sen. Ben Cardin has called on Secretary of State John Kerry to formally apologize to hundreds of federal government employees who were fired decades ago for their perceived sexual orientation in what came to be known as the lavender scare.

"There is little we can do to undo hurts and wrongs of the past," Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Kerry in a letter dated Nov. 29 and released publicly on Friday. "But we can take steps to assure that the lessons of these episodes are learned and remembered."

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A 2004 study found that at least 1,000 employees at the State Department were fired in the 1950s and 1960s for alleged homosexuality. The effort coincided with Sen. Joe McCarthy's anti-Communist campaign at a time when gays and lesbians were alleged to be security risks.

Cardin notes that Congress was largely to blame for the episode: State Department officials were required to report to lawmakers, as part of the annual appropriations process, how many gays and lesbians had been fired. The Maryland Democrat said he intends to introduce legislation next to year to extend an apology on behalf of Congress.

A State Department official said the department had received the letter and is preparing a response.

Cardin's letter was first reported by The Washington Blade.

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