Friday, June 19, 2009

Keynote at Religious Liberty Dinner

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II delivers the keynote address of the Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington [photo: Megan Brauner]

Last night I was honored to be the keynote speaker for the 7th Annual Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington D.C. I told the hundreds assembled that while much has been done to further religious freedom, more needs to be done.I was invited to speak to this group both as a minister and as the co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Caucus.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, yet persecutions and atrocities are still taking place. In tyrannical governments around the world, frightened despots cling to power by restricting religious practice. As we are seeing in the streets of Iran this week, those policies often backfire.Worldwide, hundreds of millions of people are still mistreated because of their faith now more than 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The choice to privately or publicly practice a religious belief or the choice to abstain from a religious belief or the choice to change one's own religious beliefs is unmistakably fundamental to human rights.

I asked the group to focus on commonalities instead of differences. I think our International Religious Freedom Caucus is a good example. Unlike most House Caucuses which are made up of members usually from a single party, ours is co-chaired by Trent Franks a Republican and me, a Democrat.

By the same token, we should celebrate our differences along side our common human connections. The world and its people are a bouquet made all the more stunning because we are not the same. Freedom — and particularly religious freedom — is just that: recognizing and building on the things that unite us all, and respecting and embracing those things that make us different.

It was my great privilege to speak to this group that daily fights for one of mankind’s basic rights — the ability to worship, or not, in our own way. Previous speakers to the group have included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senators John Kerry and John McCain — it is my honor to have been added to this distinguished list.