Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Bush Admin. Restricts Religious Aid to Cuba

At the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America’s summer conference (peace camp), Stan Hastey, Executive Director of the Alliance of Baptists (http://www.allianceofbaptists.org/ ), brought greetings, but also shared concerns about the Bush administration’s further restrictions of contact with Cuba, including religious aid in apparent disregard of the free exercise clause of the 1st Amendment. The following Associated Baptist Press story (http://www.abpnews.com/1252.article ) gives many details. The State Department now has a department of “Cuban transition,” that is, in defiance of self-determination, our government is actively pursuing “regime change” in Cuba and apparently plotting to determine ahead of time what the shape of a post-Castro Cuba will be. The arrogance is breathtaking. Suppose other governments, determining that after two stolen presidential elections (and there is no way that the elections of 2000 or 2004 would meet international standards for free and fair elections that the U.S. often insists others meet), decide that the U.S. is no longer a democracy and set up departments planning for a “U.S. transition” in a “post-Bush America.” We would consider such moves to be acts of war–or, at the very least, declarations that these governments are plotting the overthrow of ours. And we would be right! I have no love for Castro, but it is the Cuban people and ONLY the Cuban people who have any right to decide their own future.

As part of this Bush planning for Castro regime change, they are making it harder and harder for Cuban nationals to come to the U.S. for any reason. Rev. Antonio (“Tony”) Santana, Cuban Baptist pastor from La Fraternidad Iglesias de Bautistas de Cuba (“The Fraternity of Cuban Baptist Churches”) was the only Cuban national of 50 who applied who was granted a visitor’s visa and allowed to come to BPFNA peace camp–and the new rules may mean that this is the last time in the future this can happen (except when we hold peace camp in Canada or Mexico). Relatives of Cuban nationals can no longer visit–a move that has so angered Miami’s little Havana neighborhood that Republicans could lose Cuban-American votes this year for the first time in 20 years!

Further, the Bush admin. has determined that the Cuban National Council of Churches is a propaganda arm of the Cuban government and therefore will no longer allow churches in the U.S. to give aid, relief, or development money through the Cuban NCC! It is this feature of the new law that I claim is a violation of the 1st Amendment’s free exercise clause and I am pushing civil liberties groups to challenge all the way to the Supreme Court! The Bush admin. has made this same “propaganda” claim about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Justice in Havana, an NGO that has long enjoyed (30+ years) collegial relationships with similar peace and justice centers in the U.S. The Bush admin. is blocking all visas for the Alliance of Baptists to visit their mission partners in the La Fraternidad Iglesias Bautistas de Cuba and is fining them for such visits made BEFORE the rules change (a violation of constitutional protections for due process, and against double jeopardy). The Alliance is a very small denomination (unlike some other Baptist groups) and these fines could cripple their missions abilities–they would doubtless welcome increased donations to help offset these fines if they end up paying them and, of course, would welcome legal aid in fighting them.

All freedom-loving persons should contact the State Department, Congress, and the White House and denounce this restriction on the free exercise of religion–as well as this arrogant “Commission for a Free Cuba.” Freedom-loving persons OUTSIDE the U.S. should contact your governments and urge your embassies to put diplomatic pressure on the U.S. to stop this violation of international law. No secular government has any right to determine who is and who is not a legitimate council of churches (or any other faith body)–that is for other faith bodies to determine. And no government has any right to plan “transitions” for other sovereign nations who have not threatened them with war. I’m all for spreading democracy–this is not how you do it. The U.S. MUST stop trying to dictate to other countries–that is an imperial move that spits on the graves of all who have striven in various ways to make this land a democratic republic!!

July 16, 2006 - Posted by | foreign policy, religious liberty, Religious Social Criticism

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