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