Dinner Highlights - 2005

< Dinner Highlights

2005 Liberty Article

Religious liberty is one of the most important issues on the world’s agenda today,” said United States senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York. She made the case for both freedom of religion and the right not to choose religion at a dinner sponsored by Liberty magazine, the International Religious Liberty Association, and the North American Religious Liberty Association, three religious freedom outreaches sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“Those of us who are people of faith are so aware of what that means in our lives that it is sometimes a challenge for us to understand our obligations to make space for nonbelievers,” Senator Clinton, who was elected to a six-year Senate term in 2000, said to an audience of more than 200. This is the third annual religious liberty dinner sponsored by Liberty magazine and the IRLA; all three have been held in the historic Senate Caucus Room on Capitol Hill.

Calling the Seventh-day Adventist Church a “vital force” for religious freedom at home and abroad, Senator Clinton lauded the involvement of the church, its 100-year-old Liberty magazine, and the International Religious Liberty Association, which the church organized in 1893. IRLA became a nonsectarian organization in 1946 and has among its board members representatives of many faith communities.

This was the first personal appearance by Senator Clinton at the dinner. Last year she offered a recorded greeting to the group that was circulated to Liberty magazine supporters. Previous speakers at the event included Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, and Representative Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey. President George W. Bush had also sent video greetings to the Adventist Church.

Senator Clinton said, “With 14 million church members worldwide and 1 million here in the United States, you understand very well the importance of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. It is your work, often, on the front lines of religious liberty that helps to tell the rest of the world the story of the oppressed; in so many ways denied their rights to live and believe as they choose.”

She added, “I also want to thank the church for the work you do for people in need here in our country and indeed around the world. Your health-care system—something I care deeply about—is a great example of your living your faith.”

Senator Clinton also singled out the Adventist congregation in Pearl River, New York, whose “soup kitchen and food pantry had served over 1,800 children and over 2,100 adults, and I thought that it was so appropriate that they would come to give thanks for their ability to provide this necessary service for others.”

James Standish, executive director of the North American Religious Liberty Association, praised Senator Clinton for her steadfast support of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA), a bill the Adventist Church supports. Standish noted that in the United States, three Adventists every day, on average, lose their jobs over Sabbath keeping issues. The WRFA is designed to protect the rights of people of faith, including Sabbath keepers, in the workplace.

Standish also commended Senator Clinton for promoting religious freedom abroad and at home, particularly as a cosponsor of the WRFA, reintroduced last month by Massachusetts senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic Party U.S. presidential candidate, and Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania.

“I hope that this will be the year that we will be successful in passing this,” Senator Clinton told the audience, which included diplomats from more than 30 nations, representatives from the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice, 11 representatives from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Adventist religious liberty workers, and many regional world presidents of the Adventist Church, along with representatives of other faiths, including Islamic, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant groups.

She also praised moves toward democracy in both Iraq and Afghanistan and said that religious freedom must be a part of the new Iraq: “We must support their efforts to create a democratic government that does protect religious freedom as they attempt to fashion a constitution and a system of government that provides for their beliefs and their tenets of faith, but does so in a context of respect for others.”

“It runs against their traditions in many instances, and they will have to be very statesmanlike in order to create new space for diversity, for pluralism, for tolerance. And we must help them accomplish that,” she added.

Following Senator Clinton’s address, Liberty editor Lincoln Steed offered an explanation for 100 years of the publication’s outreach to government officials in the United States and abroad.

“Liberty magazine for 100 years now has held up this ideal, this dynamic of religious freedom supported by the separation of church and state. We can see that a lack of separation, an amalgamation of church and state, leads directly to religious intolerance. It leads directly to violence, genocide, all of these problems that our world is grappling with,” he said. “We want…people to be exposed to the rationale of religious freedom the rationale that all religious activity is to be private and not meddled in by the state.”

The dinner also featured awards to several people who have helped in the struggle for religious freedom: Bert B. Beach, former Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the Adventist Church; Roger W. Coon, a grassroots activist for religious freedom; Roland Hegstad, longtime Liberty editor; Richard L. Fenn, a retired religious liberty director; and Ambasador Robert Seiple, former head of World Vision and the first United States ambassador for religious freedom.

Seiple told the dinner audience that respect for the beliefs of others, and not mere tolerance, was required. “We need to understand our faith, and we need to respect the faith of our neighbors. Respect leads to a celebration of all that we have in common, leading to the fact that all of us here have been created in the image of God,” he said.

The state of Maryland, home to the IRLA and Liberty magazine, offered its own recognitions of religious freedom at the banquet. Elisha Pulivarti, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Asian-Pacific American Affairs, brought a commendation from Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., to IRLA secretary-general John Graz, “The commitment and selfless dedication to the promotion of religious liberty around the world and in appreciation of your significant and positive contribution to the society at large.”

Of Liberty magazine, for which he proclaimed a day in its honor, the governor said, “Liberty magazine has made valuable and significant contributions in promoting tolerance and acceptance in promoting religious liberty in the world at large.”