1998 NCC News Archives

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NCC Public Policy Office Offers Qualified Support
For Nickles-Lieberman Bill on Religious Persecution

Oct. 6, 1998, WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- Saying he is "pleased with the progress made on religious persecution legislation, moving it closer to the five criteria* that we’ve consistently stressed," the head of the National Council of Churches’ Public Policy Office said today, "We will encourage our churches to consider supporting the Nickles-Lieberman bill."

The Rev. Dr. Albert Pennybacker, NCC Associate General Secretary for Public Policy, reported that negotiations are in process on the bill’s final form and that the Senate is expected to vote on it Wednesday or Thursday. "It remains unclear what the final action of both houses of Congress will be and what position the President will take on the proposed legislation," he said. "However, the current bill goes a long way toward meeting our concerns."

"We continue to be concerned about the politicizing of the persecution issue through a Congressionally and Presidentially appointed commission of review. We are surprised that economic sanctions, though modified, are being proposed before the Senate Special Commission on Sanctions is able to make its report," Dr. Pennybacker said. "Also, we regret that the current bill, like the others before it, makes little provision for a strong global response to religious persecution. We continue to believe that a multilateral response to human rights violations, not our country acting alone, is the most effective deterrent," he said.

For more than two and one-half years, in formal testimony and other public statements, the NCC has spelled out criteria for any U.S. legislation to address religious persecution globally. The NCC found the Wolf/Specter "Freedom From Religious Persecution Act" wanting when measured against those criteria. It found the Nickles/Mack "International Religious Freedom Act of 1998" less objectionable, and the "Nickles/Lieberman" bill "much more acceptable to concerned religious groups than the initial Wolf/Specter bill, Dr. Pennybacker said.

"The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the U.S. Catholic Conference and others have expressed support for Nickles/Lieberman," he said. Until today, "The NCC Public Policy Office has neither supported nor opposed that legislation, but has worked consistently for its reshaping in keeping with its ecumenically established criteria for good legislation on religious persecution."


* The five criteria, in brief: 1) Violations of human rights abroad are best addressed through multilateral efforts. 2) Appropriate training for government personnel as well as more thorough investigation and reporting is likely to reduce the incidence of religious persecution. 3) Sanctions should be a matter of thoughtful last resort, not automatic first resort. 4) Care should be exercised so that traditions and cultures of other nations are respected. 5) Steps should be taken to ensure that the issue of religious freedom is not further politicized.

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