Magazine article Insight on the News

Bearing Witness against Intolerance

Magazine article Insight on the News

Bearing Witness against Intolerance

Article excerpt

The pope's visit to Cuba has brought the plight of persecuted

Christians back to the fore, just in time to raise questions about

Russia's new draconian laws restricting religious freedom.

Forget for a moment the seemingly

endless media barrage of

photographs of Monica Lewinsky,

Linda Tripp and Bill Clinton.

When future generations look

back to January 1998, the most

lasting and significant image may be of

Pope John Pad II in Cuba, one of the

last vestiges of the Stalinist oppression

the pontiff has opposed throughout his

life.

But the presence of the pope with

Fidel Castro carries more questions

than answers when it comes to the

often-torturous relations between

church and government in Cuba.

Likewise, the decline of communism has

not meant the eradication of religious

repression in the lands over which

Leninism once held sway. The

questions surrounding both communist

Cuba and post-communist Russia

never have been popular ones for

Americans to confront. Religious

liberty "is a piece of the human-rights

puzzle that has been very much

neglected," Robert Royal, vice

president of the Ethics and Public Policy

Center, a Washington-based think tank,

tells Insight. "I think if most people

knew about it, they'd be horrified."

In Cuba, days after the pope issued

a stirring call for human rights,

Amnesty International sent out an

urgent bulletin calling attention to the

trial of a human-rights activist and an

independent journalist in Santa Clara,

Cuba. They "were charged with crimes

that are not crimes in civilized society

-- `crimes of opinion,'" says Frank Calzon

of the Center for a Free Cuba. "I

haven't seen much about it in the media

at all."

Also, only six years after the collapse

of the Soviet Union, Russian Federation

President Boris Yeltsin signed

a new law last September which

restricts the free practice of certain

religions. The restrictions were

endorsed by a seemingly unlikely

coalition in the Duma, the lower house of the

Russian parliament, of the Russian

Orthodox Church, hard-line nationalists

and revanchist communists.

But on Capitol Hill, lawmakers

increasingly seem inclined not to

ignore religious repression around the

globe. A bill aimed at combating

religious repression, first reported last

year in Insight (see "Persecuting

Christians," May 5), could become law

by this summer despite opposition

from the Clinton administration. The

bill, cosponsored by Pennsylvania

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in the

Senate and Virginia Republican Rep.

Frank Wolf in the House, has attracted

the support of liberals such as

California Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi

and conservatives such as House

Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.

The bill would bar humanitarian

aid to countries guilty of religious

persecution, streamline asylum procedures

for refugees and bar the export

of equipment and materials that could

be used for torture of religious

minorities. The bill originally sought to

establish a White House office to monitor

religious repression abroad, but a more

recent version would move that office

to the State Department and allow the

president to waive sanctions.

And the issue of religious freedom

is cropping up in familiar locations.

Castro often has savagely repressed

religion at home while, since the 1970s,

simultaneously reaching out to

"liberation theology," a left-leaning

heterodoxy among some Catholics. …

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