Candidates urged to sign rel. liberty pledge

Baptist Press
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Posted: Nov 30, 2011 6:22 PM
Candidates urged to sign rel. liberty pledge
WASHINGTON (BP) -- A leading advocate for persecuted Christians overseas has called on the presidential candidates for 2012 to promise they will promote religious liberty.

Open Doors USA announced Nov. 28 its request that each candidate for the presidency, regardless of political party, sign the Presidential Pledge for Religious Freedom. By endorsing the pledge, a candidate would promise to uphold religious liberty for Americans of all beliefs, nominate judges who are committed to backing religious freedom and make religious liberty a priority in the United States' foreign policy.

The unveiling of the pledge came a week after 62 congressmen wrote President Obama to urge him to revise U.S. policy in Sudan amid reports of bombings and human rights violations backed by the militant Islamic regime in Khartoum, the capital.

Southern Baptist religious freedom specialist Richard Land endorsed the Open Doors pledge, saying the persecution of Christians and other religious adherents is "waxing rather than waning in the world. This situation will not improve without the active engagement of the United States."

"From a human perspective, if the people of the United States do not insist that their government make this a priority issue with the governments who do not permit their citizens to freely practice their faith, there will be no relief for millions and millions of Christians who are suffering persecution and martyrdom around the world," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"Freedom denied to anyone today could be freedom denied to everyone tomorrow," he said.

Open Doors, which has partnered with Georgetown University religious liberty expert Tom Farr on the effort, plans to present each presidential candidate with the pledge and ask him or her to sign it. Americans can aid in the project by signing a petition requesting candidates endorse the pledge. Open Doors will inform the candidates how many people have signed the petition.

The pledge may be found online at www.pledgeforreligiousfreedom.com. The petition may be accessed at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.

Republican Rick Santorum became the first candidate to sign the pledge.

A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives wrote Obama Nov. 21 to ask him to consolidate his administration's efforts in Sudan by seeking a comprehensive approach to peace and reform that would bring together all parties involved in the various conflicts in the East African country.

"The current model of addressing Sudan's conflicts through individual mediation processes -- effectively stove-piping each conflict -- is not working," the House of Representatives members wrote. "The Government of Sudan has successfully pitted conflict areas against each other. This cynical tactic has allowed it to avoid making any broader, more comprehensive changes. Constitutional reform and inclusive governance are central to the prospect of real and lasting change."

The representatives said refugees from the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions of Sudan reportedly have swelled recently in response to aerial bombardment. There also have been reports of increased bombing by the Khartoum-backed forces in the Darfur region, displacing more than 115,000 people since December, the House members said.

Since Sudan's government has indicated an unwillingness to permit aid organizations access to those affected by the bombings and abuses, the representatives called on the Obama administration to lead an international effort to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected in the country.

Sudanese in the lower third of the country celebrated their independence in July as the Republic of South Sudan. The launching of the new government came after a two-decade-long civil war between the Arab Islamic north and the mostly Christian south that ostensibly ended with the signing of a 2005 peace agreement. It is estimated more than two million people in the south and central parts of Sudan died at the hands of the Khartoum-supported militia and another four million or so were displaced.

Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile remained a part of Sudan, though near the south. Darfur, in the west, has been the scene of ongoing ethnic cleansing for about eight years. Khartoum military forces and Arab militias supported by the government have committed widespread atrocities against African Muslims in Darfur. The genocide has resulted in the killing of an estimated 300,000 people, as well as rampant torture, rape and kidnapping. Nearly four million people have fled their homes because of the attacks.

The U.S. State Department has designated Sudan as one of only eight "countries of particular concern," a category reserved for the world's worst violators of religious liberty.

Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net