The cause of religious liberty must be a fundamental priority of United States foreign policy, said Bishop Ricardo Ramirez Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
“From the perspective of Catholic teaching, religious freedom is the first of our freedoms,” said the bishop of Las Cruces in a testimony before the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations. He testified as a member of the USCCB’s International Policy Committee.
“Religious freedom covers a broad range of vital activities, from freedom of worship to freedom of conscience, from the right to establish schools and charities to the right to participate in and seek to influence public affairs,” said Bishop Ramirez, who also serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
He described two “major challenges” to religious freedom. The first is “the proper place of religion in public life.” The second is the relationship between Christianity and Islam.
“This [second] challenge requires careful and deep reflection, respectful dialogue and candid discussion,” he said. “Authentic dialogue cannot be just vague expressions of goodwill, empty of a search for truth and unity.”
He said the USCCB supports the view of political leaders who have declared that the struggle against terrorism is not a war against Islam.
The bishop also responded to the State Department’s release last week of a status report on religious freedom around the world. He commented on the situation in Iraq, Israel, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Burma and Cuba.
While commending Iraq’s efforts to establish a stable democracy, Bishop Ramirez expressed concerns about the new Iraqi constitution. “Even though the constitution promotes the concept of religious freedom, some provisions circumscribe religious liberty by not allowing any law to contradict the principles of Islam,” he said.
The 1993 Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Holy See was a welcome development, said the bishop, but the failure to conclude negotiations on economic and other issues of importance to the Catholic Church and the wider Christian community in the Holy Land is a concern.
He also spoke of the “shameful” attacks on Christians in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This violence indicates “that much more can be done to insist that each of these states act with greater conformity with international law and greater respect for religious rights,” said the bishop.
For the full text of Bishop Ramirez’s testimony, go to: