Levellers

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

An Actual Case of Religious Repression Against Christians

Sunday, I posted information about the U.S. government’s continued persecution of Cuba which INCLUDES violations of the free exercise of U.S. Christians by forbidding them to donate relief or development aid through the Cuban National Council of Churches, which the Feds have decided is not “really” a church organization but a propaganda arm of the Castro govt–as if that were THEIR business to decide instead of the Christian community of the world! Since this really is a deep restriction on Christian free exercise in this country, I figure all those folks that are so upset that they can’t milk the Federal cash cow of tax dollars for their ministries must have just missed it. Surely, I thought, if they were upset at not getting government favoritism and interpreting that as “persecution” and even “the silencing of Christianity” (at precisely the time in our nation’s history when the far right segment of Christianity has more influence on public policy than EVER!), they would be furious that the Feds won’t even let churches spend their OWN money on aid to fellow Christians in Cuba! I can seldom remember such a clear violation of the Free Exercise clause. Roger, Mom2, D.R., and my other critics who consider me too “secular” just HAVE to have missed this post, or they would have vented their spleen on the Feds right before calling their senators and the White House and letting them know they won’t put up with this. Right? So, here’s a second chance, guys.

Here is an article about the restrictions I heard Stan Hastey describe first hand: July 14, 2006
From Associated Baptist Press
Bush’s latest Cuba plans prompt outcry from NCC, Alliance of Baptists
By Robert MarusWASHINGTON (ABP) — The Bush administration recommendation that the United States further limit humanitarian and religious aid to Cuba “flies in the face of religious freedom,” say many U.S. Christian groups, including the Alliance of Baptists.
The Commission on Assistance to a Free Cuba released a report July 10 with recommendations designed to foster democracy in the Caribbean communist nation. President Bush charged the interagency task force — headed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez — with devising plans to ease Cuba’s transition to democracy once longtime dictator Fidel Castro dies. Castro recently turned 80.
But the report also included measures designed to further tighten the nearly-50-year-old U.S. embargo of Cuba. One of its recommendations is to ban U.S. groups from providing humanitarian aid to Cuban organizations the administration deems too closely tied to Castro’s regime.
The report recommends the government tighten strictures on U.S. groups’ “export of humanitarian items, other than agricultural or medical commodities, to ensure that exports are consigned to entities that support an independent civil society and are not regime-administered or -controlled organizations, such as the Cuban Council of Churches.”
That recommendation — and the fact that the commission singled out the Cuban Protestant group — outraged officials with the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.
“We strongly feel that it is completely inappropriate for the U.S. government, or any government, to determine who is and who is not a legitimate national council of churches and to restrict or deny Christian fellowship and humanitarian assistance to any particular national church council, including the Cuban Council of Churches,” said Samuel Kobia, the WCC’s general secretary, in a July 11 letter to Bush.
The Cuban body, comprised of about half the nation’s Protestant churches, has partnered with the NCC and WCC in humanitarian work since long before Castro seized power. A July 11 news release from the Church World Service, the WCC’s humanitarian arm, said the recommendation “flies in the face of religious freedom.”
The Latin American Council of Churches also sent Bush a letter condemning the recommendation as well as the administration’s increasingly hard line on Cuba.
The recommendations are the latest in a series of setbacks the Bush administration has dealt to religious, humanitarian and educational groups seeking to work with the Cuban people.
In recent months, the Treasury Department has declined to renew travel licenses for several mainline Protestant denominations and other religious groups with long track records of sending missions and humanitarian workers to Cuba.
The groups include the American Baptist Churches, the United Methodist Church, the Disciples of Christ and the National Council of Churches.
Due to the government’s embargo on commerce with Cuba, religious groups must use renewable travel permits for religious activity to enable U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. The permits are granted through the Treasury Department. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of congressmen sent a letter to administration officials opposing new restrictions that the department had placed on religious travel to Cuba. The restrictions would make it virtually impossible for any religious group other than a local congregation to receive a Cuba travel license.
The head of one Baptist group whose Cuba license was suspended last year said July 11 that the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba’s latest recommendations are wrong but not surprising.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the administration has not only exceeded its regulatory authority but also has trampled on the free exercise of religion — not only in this action but in a series of actions limiting our ability to work with churches in Cuba,” said Stan Hastey, executive director of the Alliance of Baptists. The network of churches has a long-standing partnership with a Cuban Baptist denomination that pairs local churches in the United States with Cuban congregations.
Referring to the WCC and NCC letters, Hastey said, “I fully understand why they are outraged by the president’s signing off on this — and by that coterie of Castro-haters at the State Department, dominated by hard-line Cuban Americans who, by the way, do not represent even the Cuban-American community in this country.”
Experts outside the administration have said the hard line Bush has taken on Cuba has come in response to Cuban-American Republicans in South Florida, many of whom are Cuban expatriates who fled to Miami and surrounding areas after Castro came to power and seized their property.
The Church World Service news release said the group is “looking into the possibility of a lawsuit” if Bush chooses to implement the recommendation.
Caleb McCarry, the State Department official in charge of overseeing U.S. transition plans for the Cuban regime and director of the commission, was traveling in Florida July 13 and unavailable for comment on the religious leaders’ allegations. However, a State Department spokesperson contacted July 12 said the department wasn’t even aware of the Christian groups’ expressions of displeasure with the recommendation.
The report itself said that the recommendation was necessary because Castro’s policies “continue to debilitate the Cuban economy, impoverish the Cuban people, and isolate Cuba from economic advances enjoyed by the rest of the Western Hemisphere. The regime ignores its obligations to its people and diverts its resources to maintain its grip on power, manage a succession of the regime, and destabilize democracies elsewhere in the hemisphere.”
However, the report claimed, the recent travel and financial restrictions “have sharply curtailed the regime’s manipulation of and profiteering from U.S. humanitarian policies. These measures have been successful and should continue to be implemented.”

June 9, 2006U.S. Government Suspends Travel Applications from Cuba
The Bush administration has suspended virtually all applications by citizens of Cuba to travel to the United States, according to an announcement issued by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. The new policy took effect June 2 and specifically includes Cubans invited to the U.S. by religious organizations.
In Havana, the U.S. Interests Section functions in behalf of the Department of State under the flag of Switzerland. It fulfills duties similar to those of U.S. embassies in countries with which the United States maintains normal diplomatic relations. Such relations with Cuba were broken off in 1961. Broad economic sanctions, including a comprehensive embargo, were imposed in 1962. In addition, travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens is generally forbidden, with well-defined exceptions.
Announcement of the new restrictions on Cubans’ ability to visit the United States came one week after the implementation of a new policy requiring individuals and organizations in the U.S. to request interviews with consular officers in Havana for such travelers. The previous policy was for Cuban citizens themselves to request the interviews at the U.S. Interests Section with letters of invitation in hand. The full text of an open letter announcing the suspension follows:
(Letter translated from Spanish by Stan Hastey)
The United States Interests Section takes this occasion to inform you that beginning June 2, the new system of requests for Non-Immigrant Visas, including requests for interviews in the Program of Religious Visas from the United States, has been suspended indefinitely.
The new system, which was begun with great public support, sought a more efficient process for requests for interviews that permitted persons in the United States to solicit an interview in the name of their family members or others known to them. Under the Program of Religious Visas, the churches in the United States were able to solicit interviews for those Cubans who had been invited to participate in meetings or other religious activities in the United States.
The volume of calls received has been much larger than expected since its inception May 25. On June 2, the new system received more than 500,000 calls and caused the collapse of the call center server. During the six working days of the new system for requesting interviews, such interviews were scheduled until January 2007.
The suspension of the system affects all visitors, including those persons who apply under the Program of Religious Visas. The Interests Section will maintain the validity of those interviews requested on or before June 2. We regret that given this setback we will be unable to schedule new interviews for visas for non-immigrants until further notice.
Requests for interviews for medical reasons or other emergencies will be considered case by case. Those persons who consider themselves eligible to travel for these reasons should send a fax to the Interests Section at number 833-1084. Besides including name and contact information, they should specify details related to the purpose of their visit as well as supporting documents, including letters from doctors and/or hospitals justifying the urgent need for the trip.
We appreciate your understanding and apologize for whatever inconvenience this suspension may cause persons affiliated with your institution.
Sincerely,
Robert H. McCutcheon, III
Chief, Office of Visitors Visas

Now, here’s your chance to do something about this injustice by signing a petition: http://www.churchworldservice.org/Educ_Advo/cubapetition.html And you can take further action here: http://capwiz.com/churchworld/issues/alert/?alertid=8894571&type=ML

Now, that’s not enough. You should call up your senators and let them know how you feel: The toll free Senate line is: 1-866-808-0065 The White House Comment Line is: 202-456-6213. Trust me, if many conservative evangelicals flood their Senate offices and the White House on this, it’ll change. You’re the only folks not yet mad at Pres. Bush (well, besides the oil companies), so he cannot afford to tick ya’ll off! And, champions of religious free expression (at least for Christians) that you all are, I just KNOW you’re all over this. My Cuban Christian friends and their U.S. allies like the Alliance of Baptists can rest easy. Now.
Whew! Thanks, folks.

July 20, 2006 - Posted by | religious liberty

3 Comments

  1. I suspect that those conservative “champions of religious free expression (at least for Christians)” won’t call the White House Comment Line. They only want “free expression” for their version of Christianity, which does NOT include the WCC or anything with the word “alliance” in it. But you already knew that, didn’t you.. hehe

    Comment by Marty | July 20, 2006

  2. Did I? We shall see. I am willing to wait and know them by their fruits. Will they be blessed–or cursed like the fig tree Jesus saw outside the walls of Jerusalem?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 20, 2006

  3. Hiya. Just wanted to come over and comment on your blog. Thanks for your nice comments about mine.

    Nice to see some more welcoming and affirming Baptists in the world. I see you have Soulforce on your links. Have you heard of Soulforce Youth’s next activities (they did the Equality Ride)? If not, check out http://www.righttoserve.org.

    Comment by Matt Hill Comer | July 21, 2006


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