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Testimony Before House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights Regarding the Persecution of Christians

 

before
Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights
United States House of Representatives

February 15, 1996

Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark
Chairman, Committee to Aid the Church in Eastern Europe

National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Member, Committee on International Policy
United States Catholic Conference

Mr. Chairman, allow me to thank you for the opportunity to testify before this committee on behalf of the United States Catholic Conference. Let me also express our appreciation for your willingness to raise the consciousness of the American public and heighten the responsiveness of the United States Government to the persecution of Christians and members of other religious communities in various parts of the world.

We very much welcome the increased attention to this grave issue. We earnestly hope that the energies of many parts of the U.S. government, where appropriate, would be turned to advancing religious liberty in the many places where it is denied. For, after all, in the history of civilization, religious liberty is the first of our freedoms. As Pope John Paul II said in his address to the diplomatic corps last month, "religious persecution is an intolerable and unjustifiable violation of the most fundamental human freedom, that of practicing one's faith openly, which for human beings is their reason for living."

I must also confess our disappointment that both the Congress and the Executive, in both Republican and Democratic Administrations, too often in recent years have tended to place economic interests ahead of human rights and religious liberty.

I am referring especially to the policy granting Most Favored Nation status to China without linking that concession to human rights performance and respect for religious liberty. I think as well of bi-partisan support for the North American-Free Trade Agreement in two Administrations and successive congresses with only minimal regard for collateral protection for human rights, labor and the environment.

We have indulged both Beijing and Mexico only to suffer the natural consequences of rewarding bad behavior. In China, religious persecution of Buddhists, Evangelicals and Catholics is the worst it has been in many years, and, as members of this Committee know, relations with China grow more difficult on every front. In Mexico, missionary priests who are above reproach, without any hint of political involvement, have been expelled, denied permission to re-enter the country, or threatened with expulsion simply because they minister to the poor and the indigenous in keeping with the Church's social teaching.

Whether it is China, Mexico, Sudan or former Yugoslavia, religious liberty should be a primary concern of United States foreign policy. Religion is the carrier of fundamental values, the source of people's most intimate identity, the atmosphere which sustains conscience and community, a source of renewal in civilization. For all those reasons, it deserves both respect and protection. Insofar as it is a human phenomenon, of course, religion can be a source of prejudice, intolerance and sometimes violence. But, the active defense of religious liberty is the best way to insure that the religious impulse is not corrupted.

Since the Second Vatican Council's promulgation of its Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis humanae), religious liberty has been the cornerstone of the Church's policies in opposing religious persecution, intolerance and discrimination. The Fundamental Agreement concluded two years ago between the Holy See and the State of Israel and the accord concluded a few months later between the Holy See and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan were premised on a common commitment to religious liberty and freedom of conscience as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the associated United Nations documents.

Because religious liberty is the first of our freedoms, when we pursue freedom for Catholics, we also defend the religious liberty of other persecuted believers. Accordingly, in the case of China, our episcopal conference has advocated on behalf of Tibetan Buddhists and Evangelical house church members as well as members of the so-called underground Catholic Church. In other cases, we have protested persecution, discrimination and prejudice against Jews in the Soviet Union, Buddhists in Vietnam, and Muslims in Tunisia, Bosnia and the United States.

In Sudan, there are numerous documented accounts of murder and intimidation directed against the majority Christian population of the south. The government continues to deny permission to build churches; in the north no new churches have been built since the early 1970s. In addition, churches have been closed and government forces have restricted the movements of Christian clergy.

But even with respect to a case like Sudan, where persecution has taken such enormous and ghastly proportions, following the lead of the Holy See, our policy is to advance the cause of religious liberty generally rather than to pursue the interests of Catholics alone. We want an end to persecution of Catholics and other Christians in southern Sudan, but the remedy we seek is religious liberty for all -- including the followers of traditional African religions there.

In these present hearings, we would make the same plea to the Congress and the Administration. Make the defense of religious liberty your first concern. In defending persecuted Catholics and Evangelicals, plead the case, as appropriate for persecuted Buddhists or repressed Muslims, Orthodox and Jews as well. In many cases, co-religionists of the persecutors are suffering as well for belonging to the wrong sect, for being too secular, or holding the wrong political views. They will be grateful for American defense of their religious freedom.

In other cases, as in China or Vietnam, all religions suffer in similar ways because their very existence challenges the totalitarian aspirations of the state. Both give evidence not only gives evidence against the belief that free markets and free trade automatically yield free societies, it also attests once again to the fact that freedom of religion is our first freedom. Where others would temporize with tyranny, believers continue to affirm their freedom in defiance of a totalitarian state.

So, wherever appropriate and as far as possible, defend the religious liberty of all. It is needed, it is the right thing to do, and it is an act of fundamental human solidarity.

Second, I would counsel the Committee and the Congress against believing that there is just one remedy for religious persecution. The remedies are many and we ought not be misled by the apparent straight-line success of Jackson-Vanik and the campaign on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

In the case of China, we have used a variety of tools to defend the rights of believers. The Bishops Conference has tried quiet diplomacy, and letter-writing campaigns. We have also used more public challenges, and have repeatedly supported conditioning of MFN on human rights performance.

In 1996 the time has come for the Congress to return to linking MFN trading status to improvements in human rights and religious liberty. As business has flourished the repression of believers and democratic reformers has grown ever more bold, even arrogant. On nearly every front, Chinese policy has been emboldened to be more imperious and demanding, because the United States has led the Communist government to believe that all we Americans care about is profits.

The time has come for business to make a contribution by steadfast adherence to the cause of liberty. Codes of conduct should be stiffened. Business people should be encouraged to take a stand in defense of human rights and religious liberty. It may simply be a matter of individuals urging the cases of imprisoned religious believers on their Chinese counterparts, or refusing to allow in house supervision of their personnel by government appointees, or rejecting enforcement of the one-child policy on nationals employed in their firms, or adhering to high standards of conduct in labor relations. In cooperation with others, our Bishops' Committee on International Policy is itself exploring how we might encourage business people in various ways to defend the cause of religious liberty in China.

In other cases, interreligious dialogue presents another, very important means to promote religious liberty. In our view, interreligious dialogue should not be lightly disregarded in favor of high-profile political remedies. Indeed, when interreligious remedies are available, it may be more prudent to seek to improve conditions for co-religionists through interreligious contacts. As a matter of prudent policy, legislative remedies should be used primarily when other means are unavailable or have been tried and failed.

We have regular exchanges with Jewish and Muslim colleagues over one another's concerns. These meetings are occasion for us to raise issues and work together for their correction. In Russia, an agreement between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate has provided the basis for ameliorating tensions between Orthodox and Catholics in an area where the Russian Orthodox Church has a special historic place.

In many areas, moreover, the pressures on one religious group tend to come from other religious groups rather than from the government. In such cases, direct communication between representatives of the religious groups may be more effective, no matter how difficult, than the punitive intervention of a third-party government. For example, we are presently engaged in dialogue with Southern Baptists over tensions between Catholics and Evangelicals in Latin America. We dialogue with our Jewish interlocutors and with the Israeli government through ordinary channels concerning the impediments for freedom of access to Jerusalem and for the everyday operation of the local church created by the prolonged closure of the West Bank and Gaza.

Together with the Presbyterian Church USA, we have formed with Presbyterians and Catholics in Northern Ireland what we call the Inter-Church Committee on Northern Ireland. For six years, we have worked together to promote mutual respect and understanding. We have promoted several tours of leading church figures, annual ecumenical lecture tours of Catholic and Presbyterian clergy, a business education exchange program through our church-affiliated colleges and universities, and a summer institute to acquaint Americans with the realities in Northern Ireland.

For two years the churches have been working together on issues of investment and fair employment in Northern Ireland. Together, we have urged the British government to strengthen anti-discrimination laws. Just last month we conducted a workshop on the U.S. experience with employment discrimination for the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, which is carrying out a statutory review of Northern Ireland's fair employment law.

My point here is that churches and other religious groups can work together to relieve social tensions which possess a religious dimension. In our view such initiatives should have priority. Where there are interreligious tensions, religious people have a responsibility to search for their own solutions and build their own networks of cooperation whether or not governments become involved.

Thirdly, in protesting religious persecution and discrimination and in alleviating interreligious antagonism, foreign co-religionists, as well as governments, have an obligation to consult as broadly as possible with the affected local groups. Consultation, of course, does not relieve us of the responsibility to act conscientiously in defense of religious liberty. None the less, the people who are the victims of religious persecution and discrimination should be our informants and advisers. They are the experts on their own situation; they understand the cultural and social conditions in which they must struggle for their own liberty, and they will be the ones impacted, for good or ill, by the protests of outsiders.

Finally, our defense of religious liberty ought to distinguish carefully between religious persecution and government-sponsored discrimination, on the one hand, and group prejudice and inter-religious tension, on the other. Persecution is the gravest of these offenses because it attempts to coerce or to abolish religious practice and profession by the use of government power. It is the most pernicious offense against religious liberty and is the violation most appropriate for outside intervention and foreign government pressure.

Discrimination, while a serious problem, takes many forms and is more enmeshed in the web of social practice. On the one hand, discrimination should not be confused with persecution, as it will be by many well-meaning people. On the other hand, government sponsored discrimination is fair game for engagement by foreign governments because it is carried out as a matter of public policy.

Prejudice and interreligious antagonism are areas in which local initiatives and interreligious collaboration at national and international levels should most appropriately take precedence over foreign government initiatives. The good offices of government will be a welcome help in these efforts, but punitive government action may be counterproductive.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, let me make two points. First, we must not ignore or minimize threats to religious liberty; neither should we advance our cause by exaggeration or with claims that cannot be sustained. Our credibility and accuracy are precious tools in this cause. Second, in addition to interventions with foreign governments, U.S. officials can do much to promote freedom of religion. This is especially the case in matters of refugee status and immigration, where the Consular Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service have not always been sensitive to religion as a source of persecution and to refugees conscientiously fleeing coercive population control policies for religious reasons. Regular attention to these issues by human rights monitors and reporters, by diplomats and commercial missions and trade negotiators will be exceedingly helpful.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for inviting our participation in this forum. The United States Catholic Conference, its office for International Justice and Peace and its Migration and Refugee Service will be pleased to assist committee staff and others in the Congress and Administration in advancing the cause of religious liberty.

Thank you. 



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