Coalition Builds for Religious Freedom


L to R: Clarence Hodges, Jerry Prince, Robert Seiple, John Graz

November 15, 2001. Silver Spring, Maryland, USA . Former Ambassador of the United States for Religious Freedom Dr. Robert A. Seiple chaired a top-level meeting of religious liberty advocates at the headquarters of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) on November 15.

Commenting on the situation post the September 11 terrorist attacks that "really changed the world of religious freedom and placed security at the top of the value system," Ambassador Seiple noted that "religious freedom is losing momentum here and around the world. It must be recognized as a security issue, and a coalition developed that presents it not just as a moral imperative but also practical issue."

The meeting, convened due to the urgency of the current situation with its overtones of religious intolerance, brought together representatives from the US government, non-government organizations, and religious groups. "We need to know our own faith at its deepest and richest best," Seiple continued, "and also know that of our neighbors. Osama bin Laden picked and chose what he wanted from the Islamic faith so that it was no longer a religion but an aberration, and became murder. In developing a religious freedom coalition we recognize that coalitions are hard to make and keep together, that collaboration is exhausting, but that the problems are too big otherwise. We seek points of commonality, and present religious freedom as extremely credible and relevant for these times."

Participants commented on the danger of religious freedom becoming subverted by arguments appealing to national and international security; the use of terrorism as an excuse to suppress religious dissent; and increasing intolerance that threatened the fundamental principles of tolerance and mutual respect for freedom of conscience.

Dr. John Graz, secretary general of the IRLA explained that the reason for calling the meeting was because of heightened concern for the threats to religious liberty and human rights generally. "We believe it is important to provide a wider forum for dialogue and mutual respect between peoples of faith and also greater understanding by government representatives. In the current climate it is not hard to see worst-case scenarios in which religious freedoms are denied and society destabilized. We as an organization remained totally committed to the fundamentals of religious liberty and seek to build a broad-based coalition with all those of good will committed to respecting the rights and freedoms of all people everywhere."

As well as US government observers, representatives attending included the Baha'i National Office, Advocates International, the American Jewish Committee, the Institute of Religion and Public Policy, the Islamic Supreme Council of America, the Baptist World Alliance, the Policy Institute for Religion and State, Prison Fellowship International, Agudath Israel of America, Falun Gong International Committee for Human Rights, and the International Religious Freedom Alliance. [Jonathan Gallagher/IRLA News]