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Religious Freedom, Unity and World Peace PDF Print E-mail

Dong Moon Joo
The Washington Times Foundation

delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on 
"Religious Freedom and the New Millenium"
Tokyo, Japan May 23-25, 1998

Respected chairman, distinguished participants from 30 countries around the world, ladies and gentlemen. It is my pleasure to serve as a sponsor for this important conference on Religious Freedom and the New Millennium. This is the second in a series of conferences to be held in major international capitals, including cities in North America, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

As a person who is working at a daily newspaper in the capital city of the United States, I have a chance to see frequent evidence of the increase in religious persecution throughout the world. Therefore, I am happy to address the topic assigned to me for this conference, “Religious Freedom, Unity, and World Peace.”

A unique feature of the Washington Times is called “Capital Pulpit,” which revives a tradition common to American newspapers in an earlier era. Every Monday morning, on page two, we publish a summary of a sermon delivered the day before from one of the more than 3,200 churches, synagogues, mosques, or temples in the Washington metropolitan area. We started this feature three and a half years ago and have now published more than 180 sermon summaries. Within a period of weeks, one can review the words of a Baptist preacher, a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, or an Islamic imam. This is but one of the contributions of the Washington Times to advance the moral climate in America by carrying the spiritual vision and moral resources found in all religious traditions.

Religious persecution has now become a prominent human rights issue of the 1990s. When the Cold War ended, the world was liberated from the dangerous conflict between superpowers and from the threat to religious liberty from the communist bloc. Motivated by an atheistic and materialistic ideology, the communist bloc openly oppressed many people, especially religious people in communities of faith. Sadly, however, despite the end of the Cold War, we still see an ominous trend that again threatens world peace.

The anti-religious trend is a force moving throughout the planet. The lies of atheism and the dominance of secular worldviews are leading to a new level of oppression of religion, effectively eliminating the foundations of family and morality. Moral confusion and cultural pollution affect every nation. As the Honorable Elliott Abrams said, along with its wave of brilliant technology, modernity has brought the catastrophic illusion that moral absolutes are a relic of the past. In addition to the emergence of a dominance of secular culture that does not acknowledge the importance of the pursuit of faith, a more serious problem is that millions of people from dozens of religious traditions are now facing a new trend of intense persecution. Even in 1998 we find evidence of some of the worst transgressions against religious freedom in advanced democratic countries, often with the compliance or support of a more established faith.

As I said earlier, many news accounts detailing recent violations of religious freedom, a freedom called the “right of conscience” by the American founders, flow into the pages of the newspaper I oversee. The first U.S. State Department study on global religious persecution, released in January 1998, cited such problems in 77 countries. Dr. Don Argue, who served on the commission for the State Department study, accurately described the range of religious freedom as not only freedom of belief but freedom of religious practice. According to this standard, religious persecution can include an attack on beliefs and various forms of practice. These include worship, social service, proselytizing, raising funds, and even the very basic freedom to know more about the truth that originates from one’s conscience.

In Sudan, perhaps the world’s most egregious example of religious persecution, the government has declared a holy war against Christians. Children are torn from their mother’s arms and forced to change their religion upon pain of beating or death. Thousands of women have been raped; entire villages have been burned to the ground. This radical regime has gone so far as to employ excruciating execution by crucifixion, even against children as young as seven years old.

In Algeria, 19 priests have been assassinated over the past four years. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been assaulted and kidnapped with impunity. In China, millions of practicing Christians have been forced underground or sent to re-education camps.

Historically, two of the main sources of religious persecution have been the sovereign secular power and established religious institutions. When people of a common faith appear to threaten the dominance of the state, the state of a free country reacts with unjust hostility toward those communities. Examples include the early Christians, the conflict between kings and the papacy in medieval Europe, the policies and practices of the communist regimes and, in some cases, advanced Asian nations today.

Additionally, when a new religious movement threatens the doctrine or power of an established religious institution, the question of orthodoxy versus heresy becomes an issue. As Bishop William Warburton wrote to Lord Sandwich, “Orthodoxy tends to support my opinion while heterodoxy is, in fact, your opinion.” Actually, in history also orthodoxy tends to support “my” opinion, while heresy, in fact, supports “your” opinion. Throughout history, established religions have used their power against movements of reform or new religious movements. From the origins of the Protestant Reformation to the conflicts between Christianity and Islam, from the clashes between Catholics and evangelicals in South America and Europe to the new problems in Russia with orthodoxy, the struggle between competing views of faith continues to evoke human suffering in the name of God.

As Paul Marshall points out in his book Their Blood Cries Out, the issue of religious persecution has grown from mere obscurity two years ago to become a focal point for both conservative and liberal groups, in and out of the American government. A Washington Times editorial last August noted the State Department report mentioned above. In fact, the editorial staff claimed that “this subject has become a critical foreign policy issue for the United States as a result of the dedicated efforts of individuals and organizations around the country who have pressed for greater awareness of the plight of Christians overseas. This new movement has led to the Wolf-Specter bill on religious persecution, which would establish an independent office within the White House to monitor religious persecution around the world.” Sounds like a great idea.

As Congressman Roth mentioned yesterday, two weeks ago, the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives with an overwhelming majority-375 to 41. Sponsored by Congressman Frank Wolf from Virginia, the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act makes it all but certain that governments that abuse their religious minorities will face some kind of U.S. economic sanction. The bill called for a U.S. State Department post to investigate and monitor religious persecution around the world. It expedites immigration procedures for those facing religious persecution and requires the State Department to report periodically on which nations are violating the religious rights of their citizens.

The U.S. Senate is expected to take up a similar measure sponsored by Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma and co-sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. The Nickles-Helms bill broadens the definition of religious persecution to include discrimination. It proposes two new State Department positions, one to investigate and monitor religious persecution and the other to give policy advice. The Senate bill also offers a graduated menu of response to religious persecution, as opposed to the House’s mandatory sanctions. This issue of protecting the rights of religious minorities has now become an impassioned cause for many people, churches, and the United States Congress.

Ladies and gentlemen, as one who works in the field of journalism, my main concern used to be freedom of the press and freedom of speech. This widely recognized right protects the domain of communication between human beings. Religion, on the other hand, is concerned with communication between human beings and their God. Why is it that freedom of speech between human beings is so widely upheld, while the channel of communication between God and human beings is so frequently assailed? The arrogance of any government, established religion, or other power, to restrain the sacred communication between any person and God, is not only tragic, it is unjust.

Here is an irony of history. All the world’s major religions began as minor movements and were considered heretical. However, over the ages they became major influences on civilization and are now considered all-stars. The motivating force for each was a profound religious conscience, coupled with the thirst for spiritual renewal. Nevertheless, these movements became institutionalized, and over time the spring of spiritual life that empowered their earlier years frequently became dry. This continues as a cycle throughout history of religious intolerance. The vitality of dynamic growth gave way to an inflexible and protective culture like the hardened trunk of trees. History knows the transforming impact of men and women of conscience. Gautama Buddha, Confucius, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Martin Luther King, Mary Baker Eddy, and hundreds of others raised the torch of freedom. They did not act based on any denomination’s doctrine. But they acted and spoke from the depths of their own conscience.

The greatest freedom for individuals must be based on the freedom of conscience. In a bill for establishing religious freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote,

Almighty God has created a mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burdens are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion. No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry, or should otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or beliefs. But all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion.

Consequently, the right to worship together in religious communities of faith and to practice one’s faith according to the dictates of conscience is the most fundamental human right.

This right should be guaranteed by every state, religious group, and other power in the world. When we lose true freedom of conscience, we lose God. When we lose God, we also lose freedom of conscience. The social contributions from religion are well documented in the Western and Eastern world. Patrick Fagen reviewed the 95 different studies conducted over several decades by American social scientists and other nonreligious researchers in his 1996 report, Why Religious Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability. In a recent interview Fagen said,

The importance of the studies is the use of objective data to show the relationship between the private matter of spirituality and the public behavior of individuals, families, and communities.

Some of Fagen’s conclusions are that in problem marriages, the reconciliation rates are higher among regular churchgoers, and highest when both spouses attend regularly. Religious young people are less likely to have premarital sex or to have children out of wedlock than others in their age group.

In emerging Asia, regarding the role of religion in Japan, Dr. Masatoshi Matsushita, former president of Rikkyo University (St. Luke’s University) and of PWPA-Japan, described the positive social impact of Buddhism in Japan. According to the teaching of the Sutra of the Prime Vehicle, the Unification Principle that brings everything into one, everything is equal, even forms of discrimination unite into one, to attain equality. Although this philosophy might not have originated in Japan, this shows the Japanese had the great ability to adopt and use it as their own philosophy. Many put the teaching into practical use at home, in the field, or in factories. The high industrial efficiency and the competitiveness of Japan depend on this very fact, that the Japanese put these adopted philosophies into effect. Unconsciously, the underlying idea that enables the Japanese to achieve this accomplishment is the idea of unification in which self and others are perceived not as opposing forces, but as one. Labor disputes, which occur frequently, are consequently settled after a comparatively short period of time.

Unfortunately, traditional religious institutions are now encountering serious challenges from modern society. The so-called mainstream religious organizations frequently fail to meet the spiritual needs of the day. Throughout the world today, there is widespread moral corruption and the tragic breakdown of the family. If mainstream religious movements had truly fulfilled their role, how could such social erosion become so prevalent? Thus, deep-seated human needs are not met by established religious institutions. In addition, how can secular powers resolve these serious human problems by themselves? It has been proven around the world, including in Japan, that political, economic, military, and legal powers are of limited use in resolving these fundamental issues.

As we enter the new millennium, our common purpose is to unite on a global scale as a foundation for a new moral renaissance. In order for this to happen, we must end the repeated historical cycle of religious intolerance between established religious bodies and new religious movements and between the secular states and people of faith. We must formally protect the most essential human right of freedom of religion and conscience, worldwide. For this reason, during a recent international speaking tour, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Washington Times, stated that the goal of history goes beyond one nation under God, or one denomination under God; ultimately, the goal is one world under God. As we recognize our common origin and identity as God’s children, both horizontal and vertical unity can become real.

Adrian Karatnycky of Freedom House refers to the transcendent idea of the equality of human beings as the creation of God and as an expression of God’s creative design. This is why all people throughout the world must have the right to pursue their own relationship with God.

In closing, ladies and gentlemen, the most essential current flowing through history has always been the moral force of religion and freedom of conscience. This is not simply an expression of human culture but a manifestation of God’s providence. Because this is motivated by God, no social, political, or military force can withstand its progress. In this light, I believe that God has called us together today. The challenge for our generation is to end the cycle of religious bigotry, intolerance, and persecution from both established religious institutions and secular powers of the state.

The purpose of this conference is to reconfirm the absolute necessity of religious freedom. To overcome the barriers of intolerance, first we must meet, then talk and listen to each other. Finally, we can work together to bequeath a new legacy of religious freedom to future generations.

Let this not be a one-time effort that ends with the adjournment of our conference. We are called to complete a universal religious reformation. Our efforts will launch a new millennium based on a higher dimension of love and unity between our Creator and us. I appreciate Japan’s hospitality for this conference. As a nation that is proud of its democratic standard, I believe that Japan must be a champion for religious freedom, which is considered the bedrock of democracy. Let us be responsible to enter the 21st century in which religious freedom blossoms like spring throughout the world. Can world peace be achieved in any other way? Thank you very much.