Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advocacy campaign for religious freedom underway

USA (ODM/MNN) ― The 2012 presidential elections in the United States provide an incredible opportunity to advocate for persecuted Christians and people of all faiths worldwide. 

Open Doors USA has partnered with Professor Tom Farr of Georgetown University, an International Religious Freedom (IRF) expert, to produce and promote the Presidential Pledge for Religious Freedom. Open Doors USA Advocacy Director Lindsay Vessey explains, "We started out working on a pledge for international religious freedom, but as we were working on it, it really became clear that we need to speak out on behalf of both domestic and international religious freedom. They go hand-in-hand."

Open Doors USA is presenting the pledge to all of the presidential candidates , asking each of them to sign it. A candidate's signature indicates that he or she commits to upholding religious freedom for people of all faiths in America, nominating U.S. federal judges who are committed to upholding religious freedom as defined in the pledge, and prioritizing religious freedom concerns in U.S. foreign policy. The complete pledge can be accessed at http://www.pledgeforreligiousfreedom.com.

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is the first candidate to sign the pledge. As for the candidates representing other parties, sometimes efforts to get a response on issues like religious freedom fall flat.  

Vessey says they've come up with a way to help the candidates feel pressure that comes from the voters they're trying to sway. Open Doors launched a petition drive, too. She explains: "The petition is really in support of this presidential pledge that we have drafted. By signing this petition, people are saying that they would like their presidential candidate to sign our religious freedom pledge."

Many voices on an issue get a politician's attention, Vessey adds. "We're going to let them know how many people have signed the petition because candidates are always looking for more votes. By sharing with them how many people have signed the petition, it's a way for us to demonstrate how great the concern is in the United States for religious freedom issues."

"Religious freedom is in global crisis," Farr says. "In the United States, religious associations are at risk of being forced either to abandon their core beliefs -- for example, on the sanctity of human life -- or cease operation. Internationally, 70% of the world's population lives in countries in which religious freedom is severely restricted."

Religious freedom was foundational to America and remains a key indicator of prosperity in most societies worldwide. With the millions who are subject to harassment, oppression, or persecution because of their beliefs, staying silent is not an option. Vessey agrees. "When the U.S. government is not using their authority and their influence in the world to speak out for religious freedom, it kind of gives 'cover' for the suppression of religious freedom and spreading the Gospel in other countries."

The pledge is a form of accountability. Candidates who sign it are putting their names to a promise of commitment to guarding religious freedom. Lack of support from the current administration became apparent in the latest extension for keeping the USCIRF operational. The panel advises the White House, State Department, and Congress on the status of religious freedom overseas, which can translate to foreign policy.  

Efforts to re-authorize funding for the bipartisan commission are at a standstill--held up by a single Senator in the President's party. Vessey says, "The situation with the U.S. Commission's [U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom] funding just highlights that religious freedom hasn't been given that much attention. It's not a priority of the current administration. We're saying, 'We really want our next president to  focus on religious freedom and to make it a priority.'"

Support for The Presidential Pledge has been growing among Non-Government Organizations and others. A few of the groups include the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, China Aid Association, Jubilee Campaign, the International Institute for Religious Freedom of the World Evangelical Alliance, and the Universal Peace Federation USA. 

Individual endorsers include The Honorable Ernest Istook, former U.S. Congressman, Distinguished Fellow, The Heritage Foundation; Dr. Richard Land, President of Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Dr. Robert E. Record, Executive Director, Council for National Policy; Stuart W. Epperson, Chairman of the Board, Salem Communications Corporation; Michael Cromartie, Vice President of Ethics and Public Policy Center; and Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute.

One more thing, Vessey adds. "Open Doors is non-profit, so we don't support or endorse any specific candidate. Signing a pledge isn't us saying, 'You should vote for this candidate' necessarily. It's really just an educational tool for people to be able to see who is willing to stand up and say, 'If I am elected president, I will support religious freedom in these specific ways.'"  

You can help by signing a petition that urges presidential candidates to sign the pledge. Please take a moment to sign this important petition at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org starting today.

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