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It’s Time to Prioritize Religious Freedom in US Foreign Policy

My latest Huffington Post column just went live. It is excerpts from my recent testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights. The column, and my testimony, focus on ways to improve US Government advocacy of religious liberty.

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Memorial Day Much More Than Barbecues and Beer

Memorial Day: that day longed for by so many as the official launch of summer, the beginning of a season of recreation, rejuvenation, and fun.

But Memorial Day is much more than that.

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. The men and women who fought for America’s ideals, values, and foundations were fighting in fact for all oppressed and suffering people in the world, as they were fighting to uphold fundamental rights, democracy, and the belief that all people deserve to be free.

America’s commitment to human and civil rights is born from the blood of those who sacrificed from the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Second Battle of the Marne, the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, the Battle of Huế, right up to Operation Hamkari.

In giving their own lives to protect America’s interests, they sacrificed themselves so others had the right to believe and the right not to believe; the right to speak their minds and the right to be offended; the right to assemble peacefully; and the right seek redress of injustice.

America’s Fallen bore the witness that democracy is not easy or passive; they demonstrated with their courage and their lives that democracy requires all Americans to be informed, to be engaged, and to be active.

We do a great injustice to the sacrifice of America’s fallen soldiers when we choose passivity and ambivalence. Our Founders were clear that for democracy to be a success, the people must be involved. And our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines on a daily basis take up the call of the Founders and of America’s Spirit to defend both the lives and liberties of the American people.

This Memorial Day, don’t just celebrate the beginning of Summer; also celebrate the example of America’s military and their desire to keep America strong, democratic, and free.

Communique on Meeting Regarding the Catholic Church in China

At noon today the Holy See Press Office published an English-language communique on the IVth Plenary Meeting of the Commission instituted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 to study questions of major importance concerning the life of the Church in China. The meeting took place in the Vatican from April 11 to 13.
 
  At the end of the meeting, the participants addressed a message to Chinese Catholics. The message is below.
 
  “1. Moved by love for the Church in China, by sorrow for the trials you are undergoing and by the desire to encourage you, we deepened our knowledge of the ecclesial situation by means of a panoramic vision of the organization and life of the ecclesiastical circumscriptions in your country. We noted the general climate of disorientation and anxiety about the future, the sufferings of some circumscriptions deprived of Pastors, the internal divisions of others, the preoccupation of still others who do not have sufficient personnel and means to tackle the phenomena of growing urbanization and depopulation of rural areas.
 
  “From an examination of the information, there also emerged a living faith and an experience of the Church, capable of dialoguing in a fruitful way with the social realities of each territory.
 
  “2. We encourage the Bishops, together with their priests, to conform themselves ever more closely to Christ the Good Shepherd, to ensure that their faithful do not lack education in the faith, to stimulate a just industriousness and to strive to build, wherever they are lacking and are necessary, new places of worship and education in the faith and, especially, to form mature Christian communities. We also invite Pastors to take care of the life of the faithful with renewed commitment and enthusiasm, especially in its essential elements of catechesis and liturgy. We exhort the same Pastors to teach priests, by their own example, to love, forgive and remain faithful. We also invite ecclesial communities to continue to proclaim the Gospel with ever more intense fervour, while we unite ourselves to their gratitude to God for the baptism of adults, which will be celebrated during the upcoming days of Easter.
 
  “3. We dwelt in particular on some difficulties which have recently emerged in your communities.
 
  “As far as the sad episode of the episcopal ordination in Chengde is concerned, the Holy See, on the basis of the information and testimonies it has so far received, while having no reason to consider it invalid, does regard it as gravely illegitimate, since it was conferred without the Papal mandate, and this also renders illegitimate the exercise of the ministry. We are also saddened because this took place after a series of consensual episcopal ordinations and because the consecrating Bishops were subjected to various constrictions. As the Holy Father wrote in his Letter of 2007: ‘the Holy See follows the appointment of Bishops with special care since this touches the very heart of the life of the Church, inasmuch as the appointment of Bishops by the Pope is the guarantee of the unity of the Church and of hierarchical communion. For this reason the Code of Canon Law (cf. c. 1382) lays down grave sanctions both for the Bishop who freely confers episcopal ordination without an apostolic mandate and for the one who receives it: such an ordination in fact inflicts a painful wound upon ecclesial communion and constitutes a grave violation of canonical discipline. The Pope, when he issues the apostolic mandate for the ordination of a Bishop, exercises his supreme spiritual authority: this authority and this intervention remain within the strictly religious sphere. It is not, therefore, a question of a political authority, unduly asserting itself in the internal affairs of a State and offending against its sovereignty’ (No. 9).
 
  “The external pressures and constrictions could mean that excommunication is not automatically incurred. However, there remains a grave wound, perpetrated on the ecclesial body. Every Bishop involved is therefore obliged to refer to the Holy See and find the means of explaining his position to the priests and faithful, renewing his profession of fidelity to the Supreme Pontiff, to help them to overcome their interior suffering and repair the external scandal caused.
 
  “We are close to you in these difficult times. We invite priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful to understand the difficulties of their Bishops, to encourage them, to support them by their solidarity and prayer.
 
  “4. With regard to the 8th National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, the words of the Holy Father, once again, are inspiring:  ‘Considering “Jesus’ original plan”, it is clear that the claim of some entities, desired by the State and extraneous to the structure of the Church, to place themselves above the Bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community, does not correspond to Catholic doctrine, according to which the Church is “apostolic”, as the II Vatican Council underlined. (…) Likewise, the declared purpose of the aforementioned entities to implement “the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church” is incompatible with Catholic doctrine’ (No. 7).
 
  “5. The choice of Pastors for the governance of the numerous vacant dioceses is an urgent necessity, and, at the same time, a source of deep concern. The Commission strongly hopes that there will not be new wounds to ecclesial communion, and asks the Lord for strength and courage for all of the persons involved. Concerning this, one should also bear in mind what Pope Benedict XVI has written: ‘The Holy See would desire to be completely free to appoint Bishops; therefore, considering the recent particular developments of the Church in China, I trust that an accord can be reached with the Government so as to resolve certain questions regarding the choice of candidates for the episcopate, the publication of the appointment of Bishops, and the recognition – concerning civil effects where necessary – of the new Bishops on the part of the civil authorities’ (No. 9). We make these desires ours and we look with trepidation and fear to the future: we know that it is not entirely in our hands and we launch an appeal so that the problems do not grow and that the divisions are not deepened, at the expense of harmony and peace.
 
  “6. In examining the situation of the ecclesiastical circumscriptions, various difficulties regarding their boundaries have emerged. Concerning this, the necessity of taking note of the changed circumstances was recognised as well as the need of respecting the ecclesiastical norms and always keeping in mind what is written in the Papal Letter to the Catholics in China: ‘I wish to confirm that the Holy See is prepared to address the entire question of the circumscriptions and ecclesiastical provinces in an open and constructive dialogue with the Chinese Episcopate and – where opportune and helpful – with governmental authorities’ (No. 11).
 
  “7. Finally, we dwelt on the theme of formation of seminarians and female religious, inside and outside of China …  We have noted with pleasure that the Catholic communities in China organise within themselves initiatives for the purpose of formation.
 
  “8. We hope that the sincere and respectful dialogue with the civil authorities may help to overcome the difficulties of the present moment, so that the relations with the Catholic Church may also contribute to harmony in society.
 
  “9. We have learnt with joy the news that the diocese of Shanghai can start the beatification cause of Paul Xu Guangqi, which will be added to that of Fr. Matteo Ricci, S.J.
 
  “10. To overcome the difficult situations of each community, prayer will be of great help. Various initiatives can be organised, which will help to renew your communication of faith in Our Lord Jesus and of fidelity to the Pope, so that the unity among you may be ever more deepened and visible.
 
  “11. In the gathering that took place at the end of the Plenary Meeting, His Holiness recognised the desire for unity with the See of Peter and with the Universal Church which the Chinese faithful never cease to manifest, notwithstanding being in the midst of many difficulties and afflictions. The faith of the Church, set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and to be defended even at the price of sacrifice, is the foundation on which the Catholic communities in China should grow in unity and communion”.
OP/                                                                                       VIS 20110414 (1390)

European Union Council Denounces Intolerance, Discrimination and Violence on the Basis of Religion or Belief

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The European Union Council on Monday issued a statement denouncing intolerance, discrimination and violence on the basis of religion or belief, which specifically condemned acts of violence against Christians and their places of worship. It is now necessary for the EU Ministers to translate their words into action and actually begin to protect — both within the EU and outside — religious minorities who face discrimination and persecution.

Council Conclusions on intolerance, discrimination and violence on the basis of religion or belief

3069th FOREIGN AFFAIRS Council meeting
Brussels, 21 February 2011

The Council adopted the following conclusions:

“The Council reaffirms the strong commitment of the European Union to the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief without any discrimination, and recalls the comprehensive conclusions it adopted in this respect on 16 November 2009.

The Council expresses its profound concern about the increasing number of acts of religious intolerance and discrimination, as epitomised by recent violence and acts of terrorism, in various countries, against Christians and their places of worship, Muslim pilgrims and other religious communities, which it firmly condemns. Regrettably, no part of the world is exempt from the scourge of religious intolerance.

The Council expresses its condolences and solidarity to the countries and individual victims of such acts and pays tribute to the commitment of countries to prevent them.

Freedom of religion or belief is a universal human right which needs to be protected everywhere and for everyone. It is the primary duty of States to protect their citizens, including persons belonging to religious minorities, as well as all people living in their jurisdiction, and safeguard their rights. All persons belonging to religious communities and minorities should be able to practice their religion and worship freely, individually or in community with others, without fear of intolerance and attacks.

Freedom of religion or belief is intrinsically linked to freedom of opinion and expression as well as to other human rights and fundamental freedoms, which all contribute to the building of pluralist and democratic societies. The international community needs to consolidate its collective response to those who want to use religion as an instrument of division, fuelling extremism and violence.

As part of the enhanced EU efforts in its bilateral and multilateral action on freedom of religion or belief, the EU and its Member States remain committed to the realisation of the freedom of religion or belief in all parts of the world, which will be addressed in the annual EU human rights reports. The EU will continue to engage with partner countries and offer its cooperation to promote religious tolerance and to protect human rights. The EU will engage further in multilateral fora, in particular the UN, to rally strong cross-regional support in the fight against religious intolerance.

The EU and its Member States will continue to support initiatives in the field of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue in the spirit of openness, engagement and mutual understanding, including by the UN Alliance of Civilisations, UNESCO and the Anna Lindh Foundation.

The Council welcomes the ongoing efforts to enhance EU action to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief following the 2009 Council Conclusions. The Council invites the High Representative to report on the measures taken and on concrete proposals to further strengthen the EU action in this regard.”

_________________

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, THE PATH TO PEACE: Theme of 44th World Day of Peace

December 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Each January 1, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates World Day of Peace. The 2011 theme — more than appropriate in light of the recent ghastly attacks against Christians in Baghdad — is religious freedom. Below is the text of Pope Benedict XVI’s statement on religious freedom and World Day of Peace.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, THE PATH TO PEACE

1. At the beginning of the new year I offer good wishes to each and all for serenity and prosperity, but especially for peace. Sadly, the year now ending has again been marked by persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance.

My thoughts turn in a special way to the beloved country of Iraq, which continues to be a theatre of violence and strife as it makes its way towards a future of stability and reconciliation. I think of the recent sufferings of the Christian community, and in particular the reprehensible attack on the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad, where on 31 October two priests and over fifty faithful were killed as they gathered for the celebration of Holy Mass. In the days that followed, other attacks ensued, even on private homes, spreading fear within the Christian community and a desire on the part of many to emigrate in search of a better life. I assure them of my own closeness and that of the entire Church, a closeness which found concrete expression in the recent Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod encouraged the Catholic communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East to live in communion and to continue to offer a courageous witness of faith in those lands.

I offer heartfelt thanks to those Governments which are working to alleviate the sufferings of these, our brothers and sisters in the human family, and I ask all Catholics for their prayers and support for their brethren in the faith who are victims of violence and intolerance. In this context, I have felt it particularly appropriate to share some reflections on religious freedom as the path to peace. It is painful to think that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one’s religion freely except at the risk of life and personal liberty. In other areas we see more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility towards believers and religious symbols. At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith. Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom. This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development.1

Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.

For this reason, I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind (cf. Mt 22:37). This is the sentiment which inspires and directs this Message for the XLIV World Day of Peace, devoted to the theme: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.

A sacred right to life and to a spiritual life

2. The right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person,2 whose transcendent nature must not be ignored or overlooked. God created man and woman in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:27). For this reason each person is endowed with the sacred right to a full life, also from a spiritual standpoint. Without the acknowledgement of his spiritual being, without openness to the transcendent, the human person withdraws within himself, fails to find answers to the heart’s deepest questions about life’s meaning, fails to appropriate lasting ethical values and principles, and fails even to experience authentic freedom and to build a just society.3

Sacred Scripture, in harmony with our own experience, reveals the profound value of human dignity: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man, that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than God, and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Ps 8:3-6).

Contemplating the sublime reality of human nature, we can experience the same amazement felt by the Psalmist. Our nature appears as openness to the Mystery, a capacity to ask deep questions about ourselves and the origin of the universe, and a profound echo of the supreme Love of God, the beginning and end of all things, of every person and people.4 The transcendent dignity of the person is an essential value of Judeo-Christian wisdom, yet thanks to the use of reason, it can be recognized by all. This dignity, understood as a capacity to transcend one’s own materiality and to seek truth, must be acknowledged as a universal good, indispensable for the building of a society directed to human fulfilment. Respect for essential elements of human dignity, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom, is a condition for the moral legitimacy of every social and legal norm.

Religious freedom and mutual respect

3. Religious freedom is at the origin of moral freedom. Openness to truth and perfect goodness, openness to God, is rooted in human nature; it confers full dignity on each individual and is the guarantee of full mutual respect between persons. Religious freedom should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth.

Freedom and respect are inseparable; indeed, “in exercising their rights, individuals and social groups are bound by the moral law to have regard for the rights of others, their own duties to others and the common good of all”.5

A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others. A will which believes itself radically incapable of seeking truth and goodness has no objective reasons or motives for acting save those imposed by its fleeting and contingent interests; it does not have an “identity” to safeguard and build up through truly free and conscious decisions. As a result, it cannot demand respect from other “wills”, which are themselves detached from their own deepest being and thus capable of imposing other “reasons” or, for that matter, no “reason” at all. The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings. Hence we can see the need for recognition of a twofold dimension within the unity of the human person: a religious dimension and a social dimension. In this regard, “it is inconceivable that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights”.6

The family, the school of freedom and peace

4. If religious freedom is the path to peace, religious education is the highway which leads new generations to see others as their brothers and sisters, with whom they are called to journey and work together so that all will feel that they are living members of the one human family, from which no one is to be excluded.

The family founded on marriage, as the expression of the close union and complementarity between a man and a woman, finds its place here as the first school for the social, cultural, moral and spiritual formation and growth of children, who should always be able to see in their father and mother the first witnesses of a life directed to the pursuit of truth and the love of God. Parents must be always free to transmit to their children, responsibly and without constraints, their heritage of faith, values and culture. The family, the first cell of human society, remains the primary training ground for harmonious relations at every level of coexistence, human, national and international. Wisdom suggests that this is the road to building a strong and fraternal social fabric, in which young people can be prepared to assume their proper responsibilities in life, in a free society, and in a spirit of understanding and peace.

A common patrimony

5. It could be said that among the fundamental rights and freedoms rooted in the dignity of the person, religious freedom enjoys a special status. When religious freedom is acknowledged, the dignity of the human person is respected at its root, and the ethos and institutions of peoples are strengthened. On the other hand, whenever religious freedom is denied, and attempts are made to hinder people from professing their religion or faith and living accordingly, human dignity is offended, with a resulting threat to justice and peace, which are grounded in that right social order established in the light of Supreme Truth and Supreme Goodness.

Religious freedom is, in this sense, also an achievement of a sound political and juridical culture. It is an essential good: each person must be able freely to exercise the right to profess and manifest, individually or in community, his or her own religion or faith, in public and in private, in teaching, in practice, in publications, in worship and in ritual observances. There should be no obstacles should he or she eventually wish to belong to another religion or profess none at all. In this context, international law is a model and an essential point of reference for states, insofar as it allows no derogation from religious freedom, as long as the just requirements of public order are observed.7 The international order thus recognizes that rights of a religious nature have the same status as the right to life and to personal freedom, as proof of the fact that they belong to the essential core of human rights, to those universal and natural rights which human law can never deny.

Religious freedom is not the exclusive patrimony of believers, but of the whole family of the earth’s peoples. It is an essential element of a constitutional state; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone. It is “the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights”.8 While it favours the exercise of our most specifically human faculties, it creates the necessary premises for the attainment of an integral development which concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension.9

The public dimension of religion

6. Religious freedom, like every freedom, proceeds from the personal sphere and is achieved in relationship with others. Freedom without relationship is not full freedom. Religious freedom is not limited to the individual dimension alone, but is attained within one’s community and in society, in a way consistent with the relational being of the person and the public nature of religion.

Relationship is a decisive component in religious freedom, which impels the community of believers to practise solidarity for the common good. In this communitarian dimension, each person remains unique and unrepeatable, while at the same time finding completion and full realization.

The contribution of religious communities to society is undeniable. Numerous charitable and cultural institutions testify to the constructive role played by believers in the life of society. More important still is religion’s ethical contribution in the political sphere. Religion should not be marginalized or prohibited, but seen as making an effective contribution to the promotion of the common good. In this context mention should be made of the religious dimension of culture, built up over centuries thanks to the social and especially ethical contributions of religion. This dimension is in no way discriminatory towards those who do not share its beliefs, but instead reinforces social cohesion, integration and solidarity.

Religious freedom, a force for freedom and civilization:
dangers arising from its exploitation

7. The exploitation of religious freedom to disguise hidden interests, such as the subversion of the established order, the hoarding of resources or the grip on power of a single group, can cause enormous harm to societies. Fanaticism, fundamentalism and practices contrary to human dignity can never be justified, even less so in the name of religion. The profession of a religion cannot be exploited or imposed by force. States and the various human communities must never forget that religious freedom is the condition for the pursuit of truth, and truth does not impose itself by violence but “by the force of its own truth”.10 In this sense, religion is a positive driving force for the building of civil and political society.

How can anyone deny the contribution of the world’s great religions to the development of civilization? The sincere search for God has led to greater respect for human dignity. Christian communities, with their patrimony of values and principles, have contributed much to making individuals and peoples aware of their identity and their dignity, the establishment of democratic institutions and the recognition of human rights and their corresponding duties.

Today too, in an increasingly globalized society, Christians are called, not only through their responsible involvement in civic, economic and political life but also through the witness of their charity and faith, to offer a valuable contribution to the laborious and stimulating pursuit of justice, integral human development and the right ordering of human affairs. The exclusion of religion from public life deprives the latter of a dimension open to transcendence. Without this fundamental experience it becomes difficult to guide societies towards universal ethical principles and to establish at the national and international level a legal order which fully recognizes and respects fundamental rights and freedoms as these are set forth in the goals – sadly still disregarded or contradicted – of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

An issue of justice and civility:
fundamentalism and hostility to believers
compromise the positive secularity of states

8. The same determination that condemns every form of fanaticism and religious fundamentalism must also oppose every form of hostility to religion that would restrict the public role of believers in civil and political life.

It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity. Both absolutize a reductive and partial vision of the human person, favouring in the one case forms of religious integralism and, in the other, of rationalism. A society that would violently impose or, on the contrary, reject religion is not only unjust to individuals and to God, but also to itself. God beckons humanity with a loving plan that, while engaging the whole person in his or her natural and spiritual dimensions, calls for a free and responsible answer which engages the whole heart and being, individual and communitarian. Society too, as an expression of the person and of all his or her constitutive dimensions, must live and organize itself in a way that favours openness to transcendence. Precisely for this reason, the laws and institutions of a society cannot be shaped in such a way as to ignore the religious dimension of its citizens or to prescind completely from it. Through the democratic activity of citizens conscious of their lofty calling, those laws and institutions must adequately reflect the authentic nature of the person and support its religious dimension. Since the latter is not a creation of the state, it cannot be manipulated by the state, but must rather be acknowledged and respected by it.

Whenever the legal system at any level, national or international, allows or tolerates religious or antireligious fanaticism, it fails in its mission, which is to protect and promote justice and the rights of all. These matters cannot be left to the discretion of the legislator or the majority since, as Cicero once pointed out, justice is something more than a mere act which produces and applies law. It entails acknowledging the dignity of each person11 which, unless religious freedom is guaranteed and lived in its essence, ends up being curtailed and offended, exposed to the risk of falling under the sway of idols, of relative goods which then become absolute. All this exposes society to the risk of forms of political and ideological totalitarianism which emphasize public power while demeaning and restricting freedom of conscience, thought and religion as potential competitors.

Dialogue between civil and religious institutions

9. The patrimony of principles and values expressed by an authentic religiosity is a source of enrichment for peoples and their ethos. It speaks directly to the conscience and mind of men and women, it recalls the need for moral conversion, and it encourages the practice of the virtues and a loving approach to others as brothers and sisters, as members of the larger human family.12

With due respect for the positive secularity of state institutions, the public dimension of religion must always be acknowledged. A healthy dialogue between civil and religious institutions is fundamental for the integral development of the human person and social harmony.

Living in love and in truth

10. In a globalized world marked by increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, the great religions can serve as an important factor of unity and peace for the human family. On the basis of their religious convictions and their reasoned pursuit of the common good, their followers are called to give responsible expression to their commitment within a context of religious freedom. Amid the variety of religious cultures, there is a need to value those elements which foster civil coexistence, while rejecting whatever is contrary to the dignity of men and women.

The public space which the international community makes available for the religions and their proposal of what constitutes a “good life” helps to create a measure of agreement about truth and goodness, and a moral consensus; both of these are fundamental to a just and peaceful coexistence. The leaders of the great religions, thanks to their position, their influence and their authority in their respective communities, are the first ones called to mutual respect and dialogue.

Christians, for their part, are spurred by their faith in God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, to live as brothers and sisters who encounter one another in the Church and work together in building a world where individuals and peoples “shall not hurt or destroy … for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Is 11:9).

Dialogue as a shared pursuit

11. For the Church, dialogue between the followers of the different religions represents an important means of cooperating with all religious communities for the common good. The Church herself rejects nothing of what is true and holy in the various religions. “She has a high regard for those ways of life and conduct, precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women”.13

The path to take is not the way of relativism or religious syncretism. The Church, in fact, “proclaims, and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6); in Christ, in whom God reconciled all things to himself, people find the fullness of the religious life”.14 Yet this in no way excludes dialogue and the common pursuit of truth in different areas of life, since, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would say, “every truth, whoever utters it, comes from the Holy Spirit”.15

The year 2011 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace convened in Assisi in 1986 by Pope John Paul II. On that occasion the leaders of the great world religions testified to the fact that religion is a factor of union and peace, and not of division and conflict. The memory of that experience gives reason to hope for a future in which all believers will see themselves, and will actually be, agents of justice and peace.

Moral truth in politics and diplomacy

12. Politics and diplomacy should look to the moral and spiritual patrimony offered by the great religions of the world in order to acknowledge and affirm universal truths, principles and values which cannot be denied without denying the dignity of the human person. But what does it mean, in practical terms, to promote moral truth in the world of politics and diplomacy? It means acting in a responsible way on the basis of an objective and integral knowledge of the facts; it means deconstructing political ideologies which end up supplanting truth and human dignity in order to promote pseudo-values under the pretext of peace, development and human rights; it means fostering an unswerving commitment to base positive law on the principles of the natural law.16 All this is necessary and consistent with the respect for the dignity and worth of the human person enshrined by the world’s peoples in the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, which presents universal values and moral principles as a point of reference for the norms, institutions and systems governing coexistence on the national and international levels.

Beyond hatred and prejudice

13. Despite the lessons of history and the efforts of states, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations and the many men and women of good will who daily work to protect fundamental rights and freedoms, today’s world also witnesses cases of persecution, discrimination, acts of violence and intolerance based on religion. In a particular way, in Asia and in Africa, the chief victims are the members of religious minorities, who are prevented from freely professing or changing their religion by forms of intimidation and the violation of their rights, basic freedoms and essential goods, including the loss of personal freedom and life itself.

There also exist – as I have said – more sophisticated forms of hostility to religion which, in Western countries, occasionally find expression in a denial of history and the rejection of religious symbols which reflect the identity and the culture of the majority of citizens. Often these forms of hostility also foster hatred and prejudice; they are inconsistent with a serene and balanced vision of pluralism and the secularity of institutions, to say nothing of the fact that coming generations risk losing contact with the priceless spiritual heritage of their countries.

Religion is defended by defending the rights and freedoms of religious communities. The leaders of the great world religions and the leaders of nations should therefore renew their commitment to promoting and protecting religious freedom, and in particular to defending religious minorities; these do not represent a threat to the identity of the majority but rather an opportunity for dialogue and mutual cultural enrichment. Defending them is the ideal way to consolidate the spirit of good will, openness and reciprocity which can ensure the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in all areas and regions of the world.

Religious freedom in the world

14. Finally I wish to say a word to the Christian communities suffering from persecution, discrimination, violence and intolerance, particularly in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land, a place chosen and blessed by God. I assure them once more of my paternal affection and prayers, and I ask all those in authority to act promptly to end every injustice against the Christians living in those lands. In the face of present difficulties, may Christ’s followers not lose heart, for witnessing to the Gospel is, and always will be, a sign of contradiction.

Let us take to heart the words of the Lord Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied … Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Mt 5:4-12). Then let us renew “the pledge we give to be forgiving and to pardon when we invoke God’s forgiveness in the Our Father. We ourselves lay down the condition and the extent of the mercy we ask for when we say: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us’ (Mt 6:12)”.17 Violence is not overcome by violence. May our cries of pain always be accompanied by faith, by hope and by the witness of our love of God. I also express my hope that in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel. May Europe rather be reconciled to its own Christian roots, which are fundamental for understanding its past, present and future role in history; in this way it will come to experience justice, concord and peace by cultivating a sincere dialogue with all peoples.

Religious freedom, the path to peace

15. The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels.

Peace is a gift of God and at the same time a task which is never fully completed. A society reconciled with God is closer to peace, which is not the mere absence of war or the result of military or economic supremacy, much less deceptive ploys or clever manipulation. Rather, peace is the result of a process of purification and of cultural, moral and spiritual elevation involving each individual and people, a process in which human dignity is fully respected. I invite all those who wish to be peacemakers, especially the young, to heed the voice speaking within their hearts and thus to find in God the stable point of reference for attaining authentic freedom, the inexhaustible force which can give the world a new direction and spirit, and overcome the mistakes of the past. In the words of Pope Paul VI, to whose wisdom and farsightedness we owe the institution of the World Day of Peace: “It is necessary before all else to provide peace with other weapons – different from those destined to kill and exterminate mankind. What are needed above all are moral weapons, those which give strength and prestige to international law – the weapon, in the first place, of the observance of pacts”.18 Religious freedom is an authentic weapon of peace, with an historical and prophetic mission. Peace brings to full fruition the deepest qualities and potentials of the human person, the qualities which can change the world and make it better. It gives hope for a future of justice and peace, even in the face of grave injustice and material and moral poverty. May all men and women, and societies at every level and in every part of the earth, soon be able to experience religious freedom, the path to peace!

From the Vatican, 8 December 2010

BENEDICTUS PP XVI

_____________________________

1 Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 29, 55-57.

2 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 2.

3 Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 78.

4 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate, 1.

5 ID., Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 7.

6 BENEDICT XVI, Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations (18 April 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 337.

7 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 2.

8 JOHN PAUL II, Address to Participants in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (10 October 2003), 1: AAS 96 (2004), 111.

9 Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 11.

10 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 1.

11 Cf. CICERO, De Inventione, II, 160.

12 Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Address to Representatives of Other Religions in the United Kingdom (17 September 2010): L’Osservatore Romano (18 September 2010), p. 12.

13 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate, 2.

14 Ibid.

15 Super Evangelium Joannis, I, 3.

16 Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Address to Civil Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps in Cyprus (4 June 2010): L’Osservatore Romano (6 June 2010), p. 8; INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION, The Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at Natural Law, Vatican City, 2009.

17 PAUL VI, Message for the 1976 World Day of Peace: AAS 67 (1975), 671.

18 Ibid., p. 668.

Obama’s Potemkin Village

March 29, 2010 1 comment

This week, I am being inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr Board of Sponsors of Morehouse College. It is indeed an overwhelming honor for me.

But besides being an honor, it is a call to action.

Morehouse states the following about those inducted:

Because of the crises of character in America requiring more ethically and spiritually oriented role models and moral examples, those inducted into the Morehouse College prophetic religious tradition, are charged and challenged to be examples for this generation of students, remembering that our vision is the creation of a global society in which the full development of each individual’s potential is the central goal. They are to use their time, talent and resources to help usher in an age of peace and nonviolence for the children of the world and to raise another generation of morally inspired leaders committed to building the “Beloved Community.”

The last eleven years have been an ongoing struggle to usher in that age of peace and nonviolence. For me, that age of peace and nonviolence has been for religious minorities, agnostics, and atheists.

But that struggle has not gotten easier; in fact has gotten much more difficult. The cause of the greater obstacles, interestingly enough, is not always an increase in discrimination and persecution, but also an increase in apathy and a decrease in attention.

The US Congress’s 1998 unanimous passage of the International Religious Freedom Act was meant to engage the United States Government in the protection of religious believers and non-believers globally. Instead, the law has been minimally followed by all three Administrations since its passage.

And while each Administration was terrible, this Administration so far is the worst.

By this point in the Bush Administration, an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom (whose position was created in the IRFA of 1998) was nominated, confirmed, and preparing to be sworn in. The Obama Administration has not even gotten so far as to name anyone yet.

If that were the only failing of the Obama Administration on religious liberty, I wouldn’t be so critical. But the facts are far worse.

See, the Clinton State Department has decided that the Ambassador will not even manage her own staff. Instead, the Office Director and staff report to a Deputy Assistant Secretary, while the Ambassador is to report to the Assistant Secretary for Human Rights – which is a violation of IRFA. By law, the Ambassador at Large is the principle advisor to the President and Secretary of State. As such, she should report to the President and the Secretary of State, not a lowly Assistant Secretary.

That Office of International Religious Freedom staff, already overworked and understaffed, is now reporting to the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Now it appears that the Front Office is asking the staff to focus even more on anti-Semitism and interfaith dialogue at the expense of the work that the staff is supposed to be doing under the IRF Act, and while they’re already short staffed. The IRF office has not hired a single Civil Servant in over two years.

The Obama Administration came into office with a fresh vision of new relations with the Islamic World, a commitment to human rights, and a dedication to combat religious discrimination.

Instead, the Obama Administration has created a religious liberty Potemkin Village, undermining Congressional intent and the letter of the International Religious Freedom Act.

And don’t think people aren’t noticing: religious discriminators and persecutors understand that this Administration has no interest in defending fundamental human rights. And while the president has said a lot of nice words, his actions – and lack thereof – have spoken far more loudly, far more clearly, and have been heard far more broadly.

As I prepare to be awarded in the name of Martin Luther King, I too can hear a message:

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.

Since the freedom of nearly 70% of the world’s population that faces religious discrimination and persecution on a daily basis is of no interest to the President or his Administration, I will straighten my back and continue to work for freedom.

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