March 8, 2014

​Haiti: Religious Freedom Festival Highlights Peaceful Coexistence

A festival of religious freedom in Haiti last month cemented the
Adventist church as a leading proponent of free expression of belief in the

Organized by the Haitian Union Mission and sponsored by the
International Religious Liberty Association, the event drew more than 3,000
supporters to Port-au-Prince to celebrate freedom of belief and help raise the
profile of religious liberty in the Caribbean.

The city of Port-au-Prince is still recovering from a
devastating earthquake that in 2010 dealt $7.8 billion in damage to a nation
already considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Two hurricanes in
2012 complicated rebuilding efforts.

From left: John Graz, secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association; Elie Henry, executive secretary of the church’s Inter-American Division; and Theart St. Pierre, president of the Haitian Union Mission at Haiti’s first festival of religious freedom. The IRLA regularly sponsors festivals worldwide to thank government leaders for preserving freedom of belief. [photo courtesy IRLA]“The people of Haiti have shown great courage and an
extraordinary capacity for survival. Religious freedom is a right that Haitians
treasure, and are determined to keep,” said John Graz, IRLA secretary-general.

The festival was part of the first Congress of Religious Freedom
in Haiti. Hundreds of lawyers, human rights activists, government leaders, and
faith representatives, joined in two days of lectures and workshops that
highlighted the largely peaceful coexistence of religious groups in Haiti and
resulted in several recommendations.

The group pledged to organize a Haitian chapter of the
International Religious Liberty Association and negotiate with the government
to establish a National Day of Religious Freedom in the country.

Other recommendations:

The Congress calls on government to preserve
separation of church and state.

The Congress condemns every act of
intolerance, discrimination and violence directed in the past against
individuals or groups because of their religion or belief.

The Congress expresses solidarity with all
groups and individuals who are victims of violations of religious freedom

Marie Carmelle Rose Ann Auguste, Minister of Human Rights for
the Haitian government, called religious liberty an “essential” human right
during her remarks. “It is through the free exercise of conscience that the
individual soul and the soul of the nation is strengthened,” she said.

Francois Clavairoly, president of the French Protestant
Federation, and a group of faith leaders from Paris brought an “international
dimension” to the event, Graz said. Haiti is the only predominantly
French-speaking independent nation in the Americas.

Other Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church, Salvation
Army and syncretic religions were also represented. Syncretic religions such as
Voodoo are widely practiced in Haiti.

Another festival of religious freedom is planned for
Port-au-Prince in 2015.