October 27, 2003
The Honorable Jim Kolbe
Subcommittee on Foreign Operations,
Export Financing and Related Programs
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515-6021
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I write to you to express our deep concern with the deteriorating situation of religious liberty in Georgia. The continuing mob violence, arson and general harassment perpetrated against some minority religious groups is deplorable. It appears that the government of Georgia is either unable or unwilling to control and stop these incidents. These attacks create an atmosphere of intimidation and hostility for all minority religious groups.
In addition, the legal status of minority religious groups is tenuous, as there is no law governing the registration and operation of religious communities. Last October, however, the government of Georgia signed a concordat with the Orthodox Church of Georgia. This agreement allows for special privileges and recognition. The recent refusal of the government to sign a concordat with the Holy See is deeply troubling. While the Catholic community in Georgia is small, the refusal to sign the concordat is disrespectful of the Catholic Church, and does not bode well for the treatment of religious minorities in general. For these and other reasons, we fear that religious minorities could become second class citizens with respect to their religious rights.
Religious liberty is a fundamental human right. When fostered and protected, it strengthens culture and provides the foundation for a more democratic, peaceful and just society. In an era of increased tensions among various political, ethnic and religious groups within states, respect for religious differences and protection by the state of the right to practice religion are critical to ensuring basic justice and peace within society and among nations.
We hope that a concern for a respect for religious liberty and human rights will be a key aspect of our bilateral relations with Georgia.
Thank you for your consideration of our views.
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, S.S.J.
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, Committee on International Policy