Messages

What Can We Do?

I am writing this chronicle in the plane to Washington. I am coming from a very interesting meeting with Christian leaders. As you can imagine we talked about religious freedom. In the past that kind of topic did not come naturally in the discussion. We had to provoke it and it was not always well received. Some of my friends thought that religious freedom bore in itself the seeds of chaos and division. Some others thought that it was not an issue. Why? God had given their country to their Church: “We have been here for generations and we don’t need others.” Of course no one asked: “But before you came, who was here?”

Looking at history we realize that there is always a “before”. Before the Christians, before the Muslims, before the Buddhists, before the Incas.  There is always a “before” and an “after” as people and cultures are constantly changing. Religion can be a real blessing for people when it is freely accepted and not imposed.

The religious freedom issue is present in the news almost daily: forced conversions, executions of those who don’t want to be converted, and assassinations of those accused of blasphemy or apostasy.  It has become impossible for a group of religious leaders to spend time together listening to reports from the world without asking the question: “What are we doing to help those who are persecuted? What are we doing to protect our own freedom?”

To speak is not enough, but it is a beginning. To hold events, gatherings, to collect signatures is not enough, but it is a good way to increase the awareness.

I was pleased to read that the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church had asked the President of Pakistan to give his pardon to Asia Bibi.  But during the same time a Christian couple accused, by rumor of blasphemy, was beaten then burned alive. This kind of crime has become a method to eliminate competitors. Religion is used but the real motive is often jealousy. Only a fair investigation could reveal that.

In a number of cases we have the following scenario:  A rumor of blasphemy is spread. From the mosque a call to punish is given and a mob is immediately formed, even before there is any investigation. A human target is publicly named which leads to their execution. What can we do?

It will be difficult change the law and the tradition, but we cannot keep silence, as innocents are victims of such outrageous crimes. I am convinced we can do something. We can ask governments of democratic countries to encourage Pakistan to protect the rights of its citizens and to arrest and condemn the criminals. Some may argue that religious freedom is not a priority for the majority of the people living there. But let’s say: “What about justice?” Is there a government in the world which could say publicly: “Sorry, but justice is not a priority.”?

What can we do? We can ask, by letters, petitions and rallies, that justice be done, that the innocent be protected and murders arrested and judged. Is it asking too much of a government? It will not change the fact there is no religious freedom in some parts of the world but it will at least give a legitimate protection to all people, including religious minorities.

 --John Graz, Secretary General, International Religious Liberty Association

 

FROM THE ARCHIVES

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTBucharest Romania - October 20-21, 2014.

A MAJOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM SYMPOSIUM WAS HELD IN BUCHAREST by one of the IRLA partner associations as observed by the number of experts and the Government officials who attended.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTThe Death Sentence for Asia Bibi has been upheld! What Can I Do?

THE DEATH SENTENCE FOR ASIA BIBI HAS BEEN UPHELD! What Can I Do? When I got the news I was in Munich. Believers there organized a special day for religious freedom and I was their guest. I asked them a question: What can we do for Asia Bibi and for all victims of religious intolerance? We prayed for her and for them. Was it enough?

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTAre Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka Forgetting Buddha?

I have just read the report of a meeting in Sri Lanka between two radical Buddhist organizations. I quote Reuters: “A radical monk who heads a movement accused of stirring violence against Muslims in Myanmar has announced a partnership with a hardline Buddhist group in Sri Lanka to defend their religion.”*

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTMuslims of France Made a Difference

On Tuesday, September 9, The Muslim Council of France (CFCM) made a difference in standing publicly for persecuted Christians by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTThe IRLA Is Promoting Religious Freedom For All

IN THE SHADOW OF THE EXTERMINATION OF RELIGIOUS MINORITIES IN IRAQ, THE IRLA IS PROMOTING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOR ALL AND CONTINUES TO BUILD BRIDGES BETWEEN RELIGIONS.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTWill ISIS Execute All Christians and Religious Minorities?

THERE IS A TENTATIVE CEASE FIRE IN THE TRAGIC WAR BETWEEN ISRAEL AND HAMAS, which has resulted in the death of over one thousand innocent people to date, and now the news from Iraq tells of another tragedy.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTRabbi David Saperstein Nominated as U.S. Ambassador For International Religious Freedom.

RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN NOMINATED AS U.S. AMBASSADOR FOR INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. During my last trips to Russia, Rwanda, Armenia and Venezuela, I was asked several times by religious advocates about the appointment of an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Liberty in the United States.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTMeriam Ibrahim Is Free and She Has Met With Pope Francis

A FEW DAYS AGO I WAS WORKING ON MY CHRONICLE. I CHOSE TO CELEBRATE THE RELEASE OF MERIAM IBRAHIM. But at the very moment I was ready to input onto the IRLA Website, I read the news she was again in prison and this time with all her family.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTWhat Is Offending Religious Feelings?

What Is Offending Religious Feelings? This was a question I wanted to ask to those who supported the law voted by the Russian Federation High Legislative Chamber on June 26, 2013 and signed by President Vladimir Putin four days later.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTMeriam Ibrahim Re-Arrested in Sudan Just Day After Being Freed

Meriam Ibrahim, a 27 years old Sudanese doctor, was arrested and sent to prison along with her 18-month old son. She was sentenced to 100 lashes then death by hanging.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTConscience and Liberty Event in Geneva

On June 10, 2014 at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, a panel was organized on “Worldwide Human Rights, Religious Liberty and Religious Minorities: ‘Dialogue Five’ – Developing a Holistic Framework”.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTFrom Genocide to the Building of a Country: The Rwanda Experience

My trip to Rwanda was the last of a four weeks tour which started in Europe with the visits of several religious freedom sites and an invitation to speak during a graduation ceremony.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTThe 2014 Religious Liberty Tour: The Long Journey to Religious Freedom

Every promoter and defender of religious freedom should once in a while visit a few sites which will inspire them.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTThe 12th Annual Religious Liberty Dinner

It was a great pleasure and an honor for me to present the 2014 International Religious Liberty Award to Knox Thames, Director of Policy and Research at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTReligious Freedom In the Media

IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS AND MONTHS, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM HAS BEEN IN THE MEDIA WITH MUCH FREQUENCY.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTFREEDOM HAS A PRICE AND IT COULD BE A HIGH PRICE

IN MOST OF THE COUNTRIES I HAVE VISITED I TOUR MEMORIALS AND SITES OF BATTLE FIELDS WHERE PEOPLE DIED FOR FREEDOM. THE LIST OF MARTYRS FOR FREEDOM IS VERY, VERY LONG.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTWill Ecumenism Favor Religious Freedom?

WILL ECUMENISM FAVOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM? What a strange question. Many ecumenists and religious liberty activists will be surprised by such a question. Religious freedom and ecumenism represent two different activities.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTThe IRLA Meeting of Experts: A Great Adventure and Now A Book.

When we organised the first IRLA Meeting of Experts in 1999, we had no idea it would become a major, annual think tank on religious freedom.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENT2014 has well started for the IRLA

2014 has started well with a successful 15th Meeting of Experts held in Athens, January 7-10.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTMeeting of Experts in Santiago, Chile

On November 2, 2013, Santiago, Chile hosted its first Religious Freedom Meeting of Experts. The theme was “Religious Liberty in the Past, Present and Future of Chile.”

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTWas 2013 a Missed Opportunity?

2013 was supposed to be a great year for religious freedom. Why? Because it was the anniversary of one of the most important documents in the history of religious freedom: The Edict of Milan.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTUS Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook Resigned Her Position But Was It a Surprise?

The IRLA has enjoyed good relations with Ambassador Cook since her nomination as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTYaounde: Cameroon’s Prime Minister Attended the 3rd Pan-Africa Congress on Religious Freedom

In a region of the world not known for its strong commitment to religious freedom, it is heartening that the country of Cameroon provides a positive model.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTReligious Freedom or Freedom to Worship?

A President elected by the majority, but leading his country toward a religious dictatorship—according to his opponents—was recently forced by the army and the opposition to step down. This is not a good sign for a young democracy. Of course, the reason given for the change in leadership was to save freedom before it was too late.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTSyrian Rebels Abduct Archbishops

As you may be aware, our friend and IRLA Board of Experts member Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim MarGregorios, along with Greek Orthodox Archbishop Metropolitan Paul Yazigi, were abducted nearly two months ago.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTWorld Festival of Religious Freedom In Sao Paulo, Brazil

On May 25, 2013, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, history was made as 30,000 people gathered in the Vale do Anhangabaú to say thank you to God and thank you to Brazil for religious freedom. It was the largest outdoor rally for religious freedom ever held in a city. During this event the authorities of the City of Sao Paulo announced that May 25 had been voted by the City Council as the annual Religious Freedom Day. That all happened during the second World Festival of Religious Freedom.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTThe United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent federal advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Its purpose is to monitor and analyze the state of religious freedom around the world, but not in the USA. On April 30 the commission released its 2013 Annual Report. This document is widely read and commented on by those who are interested in religious freedom.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTANNUAL LIBERTY DINNER FEATURES AMBASSADOR ANDREW BENNETT

Looking at someone’s picture can be much different than sitting next to him for two and a half hours. Several weeks ago I saw the picture of the new Canadian Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Andrew P W Bennett. I was interviewed by the “Voice of America” for Africa regarding this new position soon after Ambassador Bennett was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on February 19, 2013.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENT

PASTOR ANTONIO MONTEIRO, ALONG WITH MR. BRUNO AMAH, WAS ARRESTED because an ex-convict, when interrogated by the police, said both of them were involved in human blood trafficking and in the murder of several young women.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTCanadian Office of International Religous Freedom

IS CANADA DOING RIGHT IN HAVING AN OFFICE OF INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM? WHAT ABOUT ATHEISTS WHO ARE PERSECUTED?

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTBlasphemy/Apostasy Laws

YOU HAVE HEARD THAT SOME COUNTRIES HAVE IMPLEMENTED BLASPHEMY LAWS; others are planning to pass such laws. Some countries have already implemented a law against apostasy.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTAn Edict: Remember A.D. 313?

The year A.D. 313 is an important date in the history of religious freedom. That date brought into a positive focus some very significant developments in “Christendom” and the Roman world of that time.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTA Happy New Year?

“I wish you a happy New Year!” We sometimes use these words without thinking—they’ve become a formulaic greeting; a cliché we use at the beginning of each year. But what do these words really mean for someone who promotes and defends religious freedom?

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTWill the Little Bird Suffocate?

WILL THE LITTLE BIRD SUFFOCATE? ... Religious minorities in Egypt celebrated as revolution brought new hope for equality and justice. Today, the voices of Christians and other minorities in Egypt are filled with dread. What does the future hold for Egypt's “second-class citizens”?

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTOctober 3, 2011

IS SECULARISM THE ENEMY? ... Is the rise of the secular worldview a threat to religious freedom? It's a question that grows more pressing every day, but it's also a question that defies simple answers.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTSeptember 22

COULD "REST-DAY" IDEA THREATEN FREEDOM IN EUROPE?...Who can argue with the idea that everyone would benefit from a weekly day of rest and relaxation? Yet a new proposal to declare Sunday a work-free day across Europe raises significant religious freedom concerns.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTTo Karel Nowak, Our Good Friend

Karel Nowak, Secretary General of the Association Internationale de Défense de la Liberté Religieuse, would have been looking forward to the IRLA Meeting of Experts in Sydney. He would have been anxious to see old friends and to meet new friends. But, tragically, he was not there.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTThe Challenge of “Policing” Christian Witness

A new "code of good missionary conduct" lays out some common-sense principles: don't attack other religions or desecrate their symbols; treat everyone with love and courtesy. Who could argue with this? But does this consensus document go far enough in affirming religious freedom?

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJune 22, 2011

COULD "REST-DAY" IDEA THREATEN FREEDOM IN EUROPE?...Who can argue with the idea that everyone would benefit from a weekly day of rest and relaxation? Yet a new proposal to declare Sunday a work-free day across Europe raises significant religious freedom concerns.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTIs France going too far?

IS FRANCE GOING TOO FAR?... The so-called "burqa ban" which went into effect April 11 has prompted protests from human rights advocates. But it enjoys widespread popular support—not just in France, but across Europe. What's driving this trend?

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTMarch 25, 2011

March 25, 2011 ... Does protecting the religious freedom of students mean that crucifixes must be removed from the walls of public classrooms across Europe? The European Court of Human Rights has grappled with this question, which is more complex than it may seem at first.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTMarch 2, 2011

March 2, 2011 ... The headlines out of Libya are relentless, and as I read them I wonder, “Why?” Why have so many thousands of people been killed? Why have families been torn apart?" The answer is tragically simple: Because the people of Libya have dared to speak out for freedom.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTFebruary 21, 2011

February 21, 2011: As I sat last week in meetings of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, I wondered: “Couldn’t the world’s largest Christian ecumenical body have spent a little more time talking about the relentless religious persecution of Christians around the world?”

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTFebruary 2011

February 11, 2011: Today we have witnessed a moment that history will long remember. After the upheaval of the past few weeks, the Egyptian people will now begin an even more difficult struggle—to remake their political structures and to create a more democratic and tolerant society.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJanuary 2011

The year 2010 is now over. I hope all of you had a wonderful time celebrating Christmas and a good beginning to the New Year. I wish all of you a great and beautiful year 2011. Thank you again for your support. Looking at my calendar, I can say that 2011 will be a very active year for the IRLA.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTAugust 2010

It is time for me to share with you some information about the IRLA's activities, and I want to thank you for your support and encouragement.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTDecember 2009

Before 2009 is over, I would like to report on some of the activities our association has participated in during the past few months. With the return of James Standish, we have a new team and we have made significant progress in several areas.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTDecember 2008

It is already the end of 2008, and I would like to share with you a report of the IRLA activities that I have been personally involved with. I would also like to send all of you my best wishes for 2009 and my thanks for your support and encouragement.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJuly 2008

Before summer goes by, it is time to share with you a few events and activities we have organized or been directly involved in. You will see that the IRLA is alive and well.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTNovember 2007

Before I say anything else, I would like to thank you very much for your support and wish you, on behalf of our staff and officers, a great and happy New Year in 2008.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJune 2007

It has been a long time since I have sent you a report. Of course, you always have the possibility of visiting the IRLA website which my Associate, Dr Jonathan Gallagher, maintains for us.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJuly 2006

When you receive this letter, summer will be in its final weeks, and we will be preparing for our next IRLA Meeting of Experts in Aix-en-Provence, France. This report will inform you of our activities of the last five months.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTFebruary 2006

Weeks and months are passing on so fast that we have just time to jump from one event to another. Thank you again for your cooperation and your support. Our entire team wishes you a great and happy New Year! I will try to briefly share with you our activities for the last six months.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTAugust 2005

There are so many things to share with you that I must take time to write to you before the summer is over. Thank you for your cooperation and your support. Because of you, our association does a great work defending and promoting religious freedom around the world.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTDecember 2004

First I would like to wish you a very good and happy new year 2005! It has been a great privilege for me to work with you, and I want to thank you again for your support.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTAugust 2004

Let me begin with some good news. Imam Ilgar Ibragimoglu has been released after several months in jail in Baku. We met Ilgar in Kiev, Ukraine, where he was one of the guest speakers at the IRLA Congress on Religious Freedom.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTFebruary 2004

It has been several months since my last letter. I hope you have been able to visit our website in order to stay in touch with the work of your association.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTOctober 2003 Report to Constituent Members

The year 2003 was a great year for the IRLA. We were involved in many important events which are becoming customary and have the potential to bring recognition and visibility to our association.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJuly 2003

We are already in July and I need to share with you some information about the past six months. I hope you are all well and I want to thank you for your support.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTAugust 2002

I can imagine you now in a beautiful resort with your family for a wonderful summer vacation. I wish you a great time!

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTApril 2002 Report to Constituent Members

The International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) is becoming one of the major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the field of religious freedom. The United Nations invited members from the IRLA to the Consultative Conference of Madrid on Religious Tolerance and Education.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJanuary 2002

I hope all of you have had wonderful holidays and a most Happy New Year! May God bless you and your family.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTSeptember 2001 Attack on America

On Tuesday, September 11 at 9:00 am, my associate, Attorney James Standish, came into my office and exclaimed, "A plane just hit the World Trade Center!" I immediately imagined that it was a small private plane involved in an accident. I joined the Liberty Magazine group in the office across the hall and watched as the horrific tragedy unfolded on a small television screen.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJune 2001

The first portion of 2001 has been rich with events and meetings for the IRLA. As we look forward to the upcoming Congress and symposiums, I want to share with you a short report about what has been done since the beginning of 2001.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJanuary 2001

Thank you for being so helpful and supportive of our action in favor of religious freedom. 2000 was a great year for the IRLA but 2001 will be still greater with your cooperation. I wish you and your family a blessed New Year, and best wishes for your work. Let me share with you some information...

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTOctober 2000

A few weeks ago, we had our Legal Meeting followed by the Board of Directors meeting. I am very pleased to share with you some information and to keep your interest in IRLA alive!

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJuly 2000

I do not want to disturb your vacations, but I am simply sending you some information about our Association. Pastor Anthony Alexander is Free! The good news is Pastor Alexander has been found "not guilty" and was released after two years of imprisonment. A special thanks to

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTApril 2000

I hope that all of you are well and also your families. Below are some things that have been happening with IRLA recently.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTFebruary 2000

Y2K has passed and I assume that all of you have survived. I hope that your Year 2000 will be a good and happy year for you!

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTOctober 1999

I hope all of you are well and that you have been receiving the minutes from our meetings. We have several working groups. Every year we have the Legal Meeting, otherwise known as the Assembly of Members; three or four times per year we have Board of Directors meetings; and we also have IRLA ADCOM meetings. Working on special issues, we have working groups such as the India World Conference working group and the Sri Lanka working group. These last few weeks were very active for IRLA and we have been having several meetings one after the other.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTMay 1999

As the Meeting of Experts in Madrid has ended, I want to share with you some follow up.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTApril 1999

This is the time to share with you some information about IRLA for the first quarter of 1999. I will not be reporting on the minutes you recently received, but I want to underline a few activities.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJanuary 1999

Because you will receive this letter near the beginning of the New Year, I have the opportunity to wish you a beautiful and blessed New Year. 1998 was a great year for IRLA and we look forward to 1999 to achieve several projects. Pondering our 1998 year, a few things stand out in my mind.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTOctober 1998

As I was writing this letter, I received a telephone call from Dr. Rosa Maria Martinez, Assistant Director of the Department of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Justice of Spain. She asked me to give a briefing during the Congress of Toledo organized by her department. It is an important meeting with representatives of the three religions of the books of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Thanks to Maria and Professor de la Hera, IRLA will be represented in Toledo.

VIEW COMPLETE DOCUMENTJuly 1998

This past quarter was very interesting and rich in events. I will share some of these events with you, hoping that everyone of you are well and enjoying your summer.