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Kinnamon, McCullough ask President Obama
to end restrictions on religious travel to Cuba

New York, May 5, 2010 -- The staff heads of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service have written to President Obama to ask for an end to restrictions on religious travel to Cuba.

In early 2005, the Bush administration's new interpretation and application of the U.S. Code governing travel to Cuba by religious groups resulted in a tightening of restrictions on religious travel.  As a result of the tightened restrictions, national religious organizations like NCC and Church World Service, and their member denominations, became eligible to travel to Cuba no more than once per quarter, and were subject to other limitations. 

The religious agency heads complained that "these impractical restrictions have reduced our ability to send religious delegations to Cuba, limited our opportunities to accompany and support our Cuban church partners and have the effect of severely limiting participation in Cuba missions by U.S. churches and congregants." 

The letter, signed by the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary, and the Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO of CWS, said, "Churches across the theological spectrum have called for the elimination of these restrictions which have now interrupted relationships, fellowship, and exchanges which began more than 125 years ago."

Travel regulations to Cuba are maintained by the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

The office is empowered to grant one-year licenses to religious organizations to travel to Cuba, but some religious institutions have been unable to attain licenses or have experienced long delays in getting them renewed.

"Since 2005, U.S. church denominations, mission agencies and ecumenical organizations at the national and regional levels have suffered from severe restrictions on religious travel," Kinnamon and McCullough stated in their joint letter.

"Our institutions are currently eligible only for very limited licenses. Some of our institutions have been unable to secure even these limited licenses."

The letter reminded Mr. Obama of his "expressed willingness to review and revise long-standing U.S. policy toward Cuba" and welcomed the removal of restrictions on Cuban-American travel.

Noting that Congressional action is not required to lift the travel restrictions imposed on religious groups, the letter asked the President to take direct action.

The letter also asked the President to work with Congress to end the travel ban to Cuba for all Americans.

"We are convinced that it is time to change this ineffective and counter-productive U.S. policy toward Cuba."

The full text of the Kinnamon-McCullough letter follows:

        


NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell), pjenks@ncccusa.org

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