Religious Freedom Day

Posted: Jun 20, 2006 12:05 AM
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - U.S. Constitution, 1st Amendment, 1791

Today is Religious Freedom Day on Capitol Hill, a special day dedicated to bringing greater awareness to, and understanding of, the plight of the religiously oppressed; a day to focus Congress' attention on promoting, protecting, and preserving religious freedom. Bi-partisan and bi-cameral, today's panelists, speakers, and moderators will focus on an issue relevant to members of every party, sect, and nation.

Because freedom of religion embodies the freedoms of conscience, thought, and action, it is the lodestar of all other freedoms. Thus, a discussion of its status, challenges, and protection is not merely an event we accommodate, but a discussion we welcome and embrace.

Because people everywhere desire to express their faith—or lack of faith—in a manner of their choosing, I have invited individuals and representatives from myriad faith traditions and welcome their perspectives, suggestions, and contributions.

Because the United States is the most tolerant, religiously diverse and powerful nation, it is fitting and necessary that we engage the nations by sharing our history, sharing in the plight of others, and sharing the burden in spreading freedom. I founded the Congressional Working Group on Religious Freedom in 2003 to ensure that the United States Congress remain attentive to the setbacks and victories in the religious freedom movement; Religious Freedom Day is an outgrowth and continuation of that effort.

Today's discourse centers on three topics: religious freedom in the United States, alarming issues emerging globally, including apostasy laws, and lastly, a look around the world with an appropriately specific focus on the Middle East, where religious persecution-- joined with political oppression and aggressive militarization-- poses an especially pernicious threat to the safety of those who reside there.

Topics range from the practical-- how to protect the religious rights of Jewish students on American university campuses and Dalits in India; to the exploratory-- the United States' role in opposing anti-conversion and blasphemy laws enacted in some Muslim nations; to the once-theoretical, now inevitable-- clash between marriage rights and religious rights in United States law and society.

I have invited many members of both parties and chambers to participate in this dialogue and I am optimistic that many of my colleagues will take time to share their thoughts on these pressing subjects. In addition to my Congressional colleagues, we will be hearing from Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford, who are on the frontlines of the United States' push for freedom around the world and uniquely qualified to speak to the issues we will be addressing.

Though freedom's spread is often despairingly slow and arduous, it is the calling of our time. As President Ronald Reagan understood and President George W. Bush repeatedly articulates, freedom is not an American conception to be replicated, but a universal human desire. As long as freedom's flame burns abroad, freedom's soldiers in America will fight.

I am privileged to welcome to Capitol Hill those who have made the freedom of others the mission of their lives. I hope the Congress will heed their collective wisdom, be encouraged by their lives, and respect them enough to not merely listen politely to their recommendations, but to take the actions necessary to sustain the fight for freedom's advance.