Lantos Foundation President, Katrina Lantos Swett, participates in a discussion hosted by the Brookings Institute on the vital role that religious pluralism and freedom of religion and conscience play in fostering civility and unity in our democratic republic.
The Lantos Foundation welcomes the announcement that President Trump will move forward with filling the post of Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom. In May of this year as part of the Foundation's annual Solidarity Sabbath Initiative, we called upon the Trump Administration to act quickly to fill both the Ambassador at Large post as well as the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. With today's announcement that the administration will nominate Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas as our Religious Freedom Ambassador, the President has taken an important step towards ensuring that America will continue to offer global leadership to those who suffer from brutal religious persecution around the world.We urge the President to move swiftly to now name a Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism. The need for this post is as great as for the Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom and we look forward to hearing a positive announcement about this position in the near future.
"The protection of freedom of religion, conscience, and belief should be a significant priority of our nation. To permit the rampant abuse of this essential human right not only violates the core of our humanity, it harms the order and well-being of societies, including our own.
In short, protecting religious liberty is not just the right thing to do. It is almost always the smart thing to do."
Tuesday, Lantos Foundation President Katrina Lantos Swett and Robert George were featured speakers at the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable Forum at the US Capitol. At the event, Senator Marco Rubio and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo received the Thomas Jefferson IRF Champion Award.
The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice commends Secretary of State John Kerry’s declaration that the Islamic State’s actions against Yezidi, Christian, and Shiite communities constitutes genocide. Coming just days after Congress passed a unanimous joint resolution condemning the Islamic State’s actions as genocide, it is encouraging to see our leaders joining together in a bi-partisan and ecumenical way to boldly call evil by its true name, and in so doing they are honoring basic human rights and justice.
As Secretary Kerry stated in his remarks today: “Naming these crimes is important. But what is essential is to stop them.” We hope that the message sent this week by the United States Congress and by the United States Department of State will not only raise awareness of the horrific crimes being committed in the Middle East today, but will lead to strong action to stop these atrocities.
Too often the world has failed to act when helpless minorities have faced the clear threat of genocide. We hope that this time will be different. We call on the world community to act to ensure that the Yazidi, Christian, and Shiite communities in Syria and Iraq are not only saved, but also restored in the wake of the devastating trauma that they have endured. Only by working together can we overcome the evil that ISIS represents.
Advance the Freedom of Religion, Conscience, and Belief
Religious and spiritual believers in today’s China are being persecuted in ways not seen since Mao's Cultural Revolution 40 years ago. On the weekend of May 20-22, 2016, religious and spiritual communities around the world will join together in the 2016 Solidarity Sabbath to highlight the strength and bravery of Chinese citizens who courageously live out their faith despite threats of harassment, imprisonment, and even torture by the ruling Communist Party.
Freedom of religion, conscience, and belief is a vital human rights issue for all global citizens, and you have a chance to help highlight the plight of the millions of Chinese denied this basic entitlement. Whether it is encouraging your faith community’s leadership to participate in the Solidarity Sabbath or petitioning your government to take part, there are so many ways to make a difference.
Learn more at SolidaritySabbath.org
As a human rights organization dedicated to the advancement of our nation’s most profound values of religious freedom, equality, and justice, The Lantos Foundation feels compelled to address a proposal that has been announced by a candidate for President to temporarily ban all Muslims from travelling to the United States. It should be self-evident that any such proposal is not only inimical to our collective values, but also to the Constitution of the United States. Whether it is our 1st Amendment's protection of religious freedom, the 5th Amendment’s guarantee of due process, or the 14th Amendment's promise of equal protection of the laws, the heart of our Constitution is the fair and equal treatment of all people, not only US citizens. A religious litmus test for admission to our country invokes memories of totalitarian regimes, from Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia, and we believe those sorry examples are ones that all decent people should be loath to emulate.
However, our concerns run beyond the many legal objections to an unconstitutional and unworkable immigration proposal. We are disturbed at the impact that such rhetoric has on the fabric of our society domestically and on the perception of our nation abroad. For billions of people around the world, the United States of America has stood for the robust defense of human rights, justice, and religious freedom. It has been the strength and credibility of our values that has been our greatest asset as we strive to build a more decent and humane world for all people. Any plan to target a specific community based on their religious identity is deeply offensive and would start our nation down a slippery slope that leads to a very dark place. No-one understood this better than the late Congressman Tom Lantos. As the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the United States Congress, Tom Lantos experienced, in the most horrific way, what can happen when one group of people is singled out for discrimination and exclusion.
We applaud the many voices from across the political spectrum, both in the United States and abroad, who have quickly denounced this outrageous plan, and we would hope that all those running for our nation’s highest office would take seriously the Constitutional oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.
The Lantos Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization and as such we do not take positions on political candidates; however we do speak out on matters that impact our organization’s mission to advance the cause of fundamental human rights.
Paris-Bergen, 17 November 2015 - As U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Southeast Asia this week, ninety (90) international personalities and civil society organizations worldwide have signed a letter urging the President to press for the release of Vietnam's most longstanding prisoner of conscience, Thich Quang Do, leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and prominent human rights defender.
Initiated by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (Paris) and the Rafto Foundation (Norway), together with Amnesty International, FIDH, Civil Rights Defenders, World Movement for Democracy, Lantos Foundation, PEN International, People in Need Foundation and Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme, the letter’s 90 signatories include Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Mairead Maguire and Tawakkol Karman, religious figures such as Mons. Vaclav Maly, Bishop of Prague, Fr. José Raúl Vera López, Bishop of Saltillo Mexico, Mgr Bulambo Lembelembe Josué of the DR of Congo, academics, writers, journalists, legislators, 23 members of the European Parliament, Lord Avebury, Baroness Berridge and Lord Alton of the UK House of Lords, numerous Rafto Prize laureates, human rights defenders and democracy activists from all over the globe.
The letter is sent to President Obama as he makes a landmark visit to the Philippines and Malaysia to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit and the U.S.-ASEAN and East Asia Summits, where he will meet with Vietnamese leaders. This is a symbolic year for the U.S. and Vietnam, as it marks 20 years of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations and the 40th Anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
Human rights are the signatories’ major concern. In Vietnam today, religious leaders, civil society activists and bloggers face daily harassments and intimidation from the authorities simply for peacefully expressing their views, and have no legal framework to protect them, at the same time as the country seeks to strengthen economic and security ties with the U.S, they wrote.
The signatories stress that U.S.-Vietnam relations are only sustainable if they are founded on the mutual respect of democratic freedoms and fundamental human rights including the freedoms of expression, association, religion or belief and movement. The release of Thich Quang Do, they said, would be a “truly historic gesture” that would “give Vietnam the opportunity to demonstrate its willingness for progress, and reaffirm the United States’ determination to make human rights the cornerstone of this strengthened relationship.”
Thich Quang Do, 87, is Fifth Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), a renowned spiritual leader, scholar, dissident and 16-times Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He has spent more than three decades in detention for his peaceful advocacy of religious freedom, democracy and human rights. For protesting the creation of a State-sponsored Buddhist Church, in 1982, Thich Quang Do was sent into internal exile in northern Vietnam for ten years along with his mother, who died of cold and hunger in the harsh environment. In 1995, he was sentenced to five years in prison for organising a rescue mission for flood victims in the Mekong Delta.
Released in 1998 due to international pressure, Thich Quang Do was placed under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). His communications are monitored and he is denied freedom of movement and citizenship rights. From house arrest, Thich Quang Do continues to press Vietnam to embrace democratic pluralism and respect all human rights for all.
For more information:
The Lantos foundation is non-profit non-partisan organization and as such does not take positions on political candidates. However, as a human rights organization that seeks to advance the robust protection of freedom of religion, conscience, and belief, we feel it is important for us to speak out on the recent discussion of whether or not a Muslim American should hold the office of President of the United States.
In many ways religious freedom is the well spring from which many of our other cherished human rights flow. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association –all of these hinge upon a rights frame work that honors and upholds the fundamental right of freedom of religion. The framers of our constitution understood the importance of protecting the right of all citizens of whatever faith or belief to participate fully and equally in the life of our society. Not only is this belief enshrined in the first amendment to the Bill of Rights, but equally importantly it is spelled out in Article V Paragraph 3 of the Constitution. There it states with utter clarity that, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
At the time of America’s founding, such forward thinking and visionary ideas about religious freedom and equality were rare. The subsequent centuries have borne out the wisdom of our founders in establishing a Republic where the separation of church and state, the full and free exercise of religion, and the equality of all before the law is robustly defended. In many ways this historically unique American formulation has been the key to our remarkable success as a society, and we have seen it emulated in constitutional charters and human rights documents around the globe. Furthermore, we can see the disastrous consequences in the form of religious repression and persecution, brutal sectarian violence, and instability in societies that fail to provide strong protection for this fundamental human right.
That is why it was so distressing to hear comments suggesting that a faithful Muslim would not be welcome to serve as President of the United States. Not only do these comments reflect a profound misunderstanding of the US Constitution and our national traditions, but they represent an egregious slander against the Muslim faith and against millions of patriotic Muslim American citizens. This is unacceptable.
We encourage all those who would seek the highest office in the land to live by and defend our first freedom –the freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. Furthermore, we would hope that in their communications and indeed in their conduct that they would seek to reflect our nation’s most honored values of liberty, justice and equality for all.