July 9, 2009

17CN: Continue Activism Urged at Annual Religious Liberty Forum in Washington

Continued Activism Urged at Annual
Religious Liberty Forum in Washington
Rep. Cleaver calls for focus on commonalities instead of differences
BY ANSEL OLIVER, Assistant Director for News, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, reporting from Washington, D.C.
capA United States Congressman told religious freedom proponents in Washington D.C. June 18 that while much has been done to further religious freedom, more needs to be done.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, (D-Missouri), co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Caucus, said religious liberty violations are often committed unintentionally by governments fearful of losing control and actively exercising power.
"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, yet persecutions and atrocities are still taking place," Cleaver told some 300 attendees of a religious freedom forum.
His remarks at the 7th Annual Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington D.C. underscored the case of hundreds of millions of people still mistreated because of their faith now more than 60 years after Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Some experts estimate there are more than 300 million people around the world persecuted for their faith, ranging from prohibition of conversion to cases of workplace discrimination.

1519NewsFeatureB01 crop

SPEAKING FOR FREEDOM: U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II urged religious freedom proponents to focus on commonalities instead of differences during his keynote address at the International Religious Liberty Association Dinner in Washington, D.C,., on June 18. Cleaver a Democrat, represents the state of Missouri's Fifth Congressional District.  [Photo: Megan Brauner/ANN]


"The choice to privately or publicly practice a religious belief or the choice to abstain from a religious belief or the choice to change one's own religious beliefs is unmistakably fundamental to human rights," Cleaver said.

Political differences were set aside for the evening. An ordained United Methodist Minister and a Democrat, Cleaver implored religious leaders to focus on commonalities instead of differences. He also mentioned that last year's speaker, Trent Franks, is also a  member of the International Religious Freedom Caucus and a Republican. “But [he] and I are twins when it comes to religious freedom," Cleaver said.
Other past speakers include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was at the time a Senator from New York, as well as Senators John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and John McCain (R-Arizona).
The North American Religious Liberty Association, Liberty magazine and the Seventh-day Adventist Church sponsor the annual event. Freedom of conscience supporters use the forum as an opportunity to meet legislative leaders in Washington as well as those able to influence policy in other countries.
The dinner was also an opportunity for sponsoring organizations to share reports on current religious freedom work. Since 2005, the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) has held 20  festivals around the world to recognize countries where religious freedom is practiced. John Graz, the organization's secretary-general, said that while true religious freedom is non-existent in too many countries, religious freedom does exist in more than 150 nations.
Several religious liberty proponents were also recognized for their work.
The recipient of the Religious Liberty Dinner's International Award, Denton Lotz, is the former general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. He currently serves as the IRLA president.
"We're here tonight as coreligionists of all different traditions because we believe that religious freedom is an inherent right for all humanity," Lotz said. "We believe that where religious freedom is denied, all other freedoms are denied."
Rabbi David Saperstein received the National Award for his religious freedom advocacy work while serving as the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He also serves on the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
This year's A.T. Jones medal was awarded to Alan J. Reinach, president of the North American Religious Liberty Association--West. The attorney and Seventh-day Adventist minister represents employees who have suffered religious discrimination.