Continued Activism Urged at Annual Religious Liberty Forum in Washington
Congressman Cleaver calls for focus on commonalities instead of differences
U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II urged religious freedom proponents to focus on commonalities instead of differences during his keynote address of the Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington, Thursday, June 18. Cleaver, a democrat, represents the state of Missouri's 5th district. [photo: Megan Brauner]
19 Jun 2009, Washington, D.C...A United States congressman told religious freedom proponents in Washington D.C. yesterday that while much has been done to further religious freedom, more needs to be done.
Emanuel Cleaver II, 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.
"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, a republican and also a member of the International Religious Freedom Caucus is in Cleaver's opposing party. 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 and John McCain.
The annual event is sponsored by the International Religious Liberty Association, the North American Religious Liberty Association, Liberty Magazine and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Freedom of conscience supporters use the forum as an opportunity to meet the key people in Washington and 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 worldwide festivals to recognize countries where religious freedom is guaranteed and practiced. The organization's secretary-general, John Graz, said that while true religious freedom is non-existent in too many countries, religious freedom does exist in more than 150 countries.
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 work as 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.