Promoting Religious Freedom as a Presidential Priority

Russ Jones

Promoting Religious Freedom as a Presidential Priority

It’s not uncommon for political action committees (PACS) or other advocacy groups to encourage presidential candidates to sign “pledges” vowing their support for a particular issue. During the current political cycle for example, candidates have considered invitations from pro-life groups to ban abortions. And yet another promise, "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," a declaration written by Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, pledges no new taxes.

Presidential Pledge for Religious Freedom

Open Doors USA has partnered with Professor Tom Farr of Georgetown University, an international religious freedom (IRF) expert, to produce and promote its own pledge. The Presidential Pledge for Religious Freedom advocates for persecuted Christians and people of all faiths worldwide.

The pledge begins by stating, “FIRST, that religious liberty in full is the birthright of every American, as recognized by the First Amendment. It entails the right to believe, worship, and practice in accord with one's faith, subject only to the limits imposed by the U.S. constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

"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.

Likewise, Farr notes “internationally, 70 percent of the world's population lives in countries in which religious freedom is severely restricted. Tens of millions of human beings are subject to violent persecution because of their beliefs or those of their tormentors. Whoever wins the presidency in 2012 should make religious freedom, at home and abroad, a high priority.”

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of religiously motivated hate crimes are directed against Jews.

In announcing the pledge, Open Doors said, “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.”

Judge the Judges

The second vow in the pledge reads, “SECOND, that I will nominate to the U.S. federal bench judges who are committed to protecting for all Americans the religious liberty rights described above.”

Mark Silk, on his blog entitled Spiritual-Politics.org, takes to task the pledge.

“What's lurking in the background here is the issue of government funding,” writes Silk. “Is there a religious right to use public money to proselytize and to discriminate in hiring if a ‘charitable work’ is involved?”

Silk argues some current Supreme Court judges fall within the guidelines of the presidential pledge.

“And the pledge to nominate would mean pledging to stay away from judges like Antonin Scalia, the jurist most responsible for curtailing religious freedom rights in our time,” claims Silk. “I rather suspect that that's not what Rick Santorum had in mind when he became the first presidential candidate to sign on.”

Who Has Signed?

Open Doors USA has presented the pledge to presidential candidates –including Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and independent – asking each of them to sign it. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is the only candidate to sign the pledge. The other Republican presidential candidates and President Barack Obama are listed on the organizations website as “considering” the pledge.

Gary Bauer, former GOP presidential candidate and president of American Values, believes the pledge is a very timely idea.

“We have a president who won’t even concede that the United States was built on Christian principles,” Bauer told Crosswalk.com. “That we are based on Judeo-Christian concepts of man and liberty and so forth.”

Bauer continued, saying former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has the greatest track record with the current slate of Republican candidates in regards to supporting religious freedoms. He also recalled the recent brutal attacks on Christian churches in Nigeria as an example for the importance of the pledge.

“Sadly, if you look crossways at a Muslim a meeting of the United Nations Security Council is called, but you blow up Christian churches on Christmas day in Nigeria and the world and a good number of Christian churches in the United States yawn.”

Open Doors officials say it is critical lawmakers know American citizens care about this issue.

"Religious freedom is foundational to American society, and a key indicator of prosperity in most societies worldwide," says Open Doors USA advocacy director Lindsay Vessey. "Candidates need to hear from American voters that this is an important issue. We're asking all freedom-loving Americans to sign the petition. This petition indicates that you would like your presidential candidate to sign the Presidential Pledge for Religious Freedom."

Endorsers of the Pledge

Some 30 non-government organizations, institutions and individuals have endorsed the Presidential Pledge. 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.

Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and one of the endorsers, suggests there is significant symbolism of the pledge.

"This is part and parcel of who we are as a people," he said. "This nation was founded on soul freedom. Religious freedom is the most important freedom without which the other freedoms lose their meaning. It's the first freedom [mentioned] in the First Amendment."

Land says that the pledge serves as a reminder that religious freedom should be an integral part of the foreign policy of any U.S. presidential administration. He describes the pledge as "the canary in the human-rights coal mine."

To read the pledge in its entirety go to www.pledgeforreligiousfreedom.com.

Russ Jones is a 20-year award winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites such as ChristianPress.com, OxfordFamily.com and a media consultant. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ enjoys keeping his mind engaged in the academic arena teaching subjects like Introduction to World Religions, Intro. to Mass Communication, Ethics, and Biblical Literature at Hutchinson Community College and Central Christian College. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at [email protected].

Publication date: December 30, 2011

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