Faith leaders meet to support bill for global religious freedom
Christian leaders and heads of other faith groups gathered recently in Washington D.C. to support a bill that will enhance U.S.foreign policy in support of global religious freedom.
The interfaith leaders attended a one-day conference, Stop Religious Persecution Now, at The Washington Times. Addressing the group was Suzan Johnson-Cook, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for religious freedom.
“Everyone should have the right to believe or not believe,” Cook told the participants, adding, “That is their God-given right,” according to The Washington Times.
Included among the participants were Moslems, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious leaders, lawmakers, government officials, and citizen advocate groups for global religious freedom.
The conference was also designed to rally support for HR 1856, and to form a faith coalition to draw the attention of Congress, media and social networks towards issues of religious persecution.
The bill, authored by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Virginia), will enhance the role of the State Department in advocating global religious freedom.
Also present at the conference was Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors. In his website he said of the event, “[The conference] not only focuses on Christians who face persecution, but people of all faiths who are persecuted for their beliefs. Nearly every global faith is represented at this conference.”
Moeller, in the Open Doors website described HR 1856 as “one of the most important initiatives to promote worldwide religious freedom.” First, because it reauthorizes the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which monitors religious freedom and makes independent policy recommendations to the President, for seven more years.
Second, it addresses weaknesses in the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act including ensuring that the IRF Ambassador reports directly to the Secretary of State.
Moeller said in the website, “All of these changes are critical to improving the way the US government promotes international religious freedom and helps us achieve our goal of serving persecuted Christians.”
Generally, it was felt that while persecution is not a major problem in the U.S., there is the issue of discrimination.
“The U.S. is surely one of the freest of countries,” Ramesh Rao of the Hindu America Foundation said, “but even we have discrimination problems,” citing problems the group has encountered in seeking permission to build temples in the US, The Washington Times said.
Another speaker at the conference, Hansdeep Singh of the United Sikhs, said that in airports across the country he is often patted down like a “caged animal” at airports before even going through the metal detector because of his turban. “What did I do wrong?” The Washington Times reported.
“The problem is that no faith community is safe,” Tina Ramirez, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s director of government relations, said. “You might be the persecutor in one but the persecuted in another. So, unfortunately, religious persecution knows no bounds,” The Washington Times said.