This was my last Californian Tour. What I call the Californian Tour was not limited to California. It was expanded to Nevada and Arizona. It has become a tradition since the first one in 1998 when Attorney Alan Reinach invited me to give a lecture at Pacific Union College. Several meetings organized by the Church State Council with religious leaders and in churches followed. In 2007, we went to Honolulu, Hawaii, to prepare for the 2008 Festival of Religious Freedom. In the following years when I returned to California, Dr. Norman Farley joined us and brought the concept of Liberty Classroom. His idea was to select the best students who showed interest in religious freedom and public affairs. He organized, with Alan and Dennis Seaton, a tour of Washington DC. It provided an opportunity for the students to meet state legislators and members of non-governmental organizations. It was a great idea and it opened to us the doors of academies and universities.
In promoting the Liberty Classroom we also explained what religious freedom is about. I used to give 10 lectures during the Tour. Dr. Farley also built a great program that included dinners with supporters and TV interviews and panels. The best panels were held on the campus of Loma Linda University with General David Brahms who shared his strong conviction for human rights.
In 1998, when the Tour began, the state of religious freedom in the world was not good. In 2015 it has become worst. As I was speaking to the students and Pastors the news reported the killings in Denmark and the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya.
Year 2015 began with the assassination of cartoonists and Jewish customers in Paris. It gave a tragic message about what could come again in the next weeks and months. The question I was asked in classrooms, in panels and after the lectures was the same: “What can we do?” My answer was: “We can do more!”
We can do more to explain that religion is part of our human experience and should be respected. We can do more in promoting the great principle of religious freedom for all and everywhere as part of our human dignity and for believers, as a gift from God. We can do more in favoring inter-religious meetings and encouraging religious people to have a positive contribution to the community they live in.
We can do more in reaffirming our support for the fundamental values of freedom and justice. When we see what happens where religious fanatics are in charge, persecution and assassinations on behalf of religion, we can imagine the power of the word “Freedom”. We can imagine the attraction the two words “Religious Freedom” will have on those who are persecuted and also on those who witness persecution. We have to encourage people everywhere, to rediscover the beauty and the power of these simple words: Religious Freedom!
John Graz - Secretary General, International Religious Liberty Association