Welcome to the International Coalition for Religous Freedom The International Coalition for Religious Freedom seeks to advance the cause of freedom of conscience and religious worship for all people in all countries. http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage Sun, 20 Apr 2014 18:59:42 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb Court Rules Against Deprogrammers in Japan http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=630:goto-deprogrammers&catid=47:deprogramming-issues http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=630:goto-deprogrammers&catid=47:deprogramming-issues
Goto wins court case against deprogrammers
A Japanese court has ruled in favor of Unification Church member Mr. Toru Goto in a civil suit against his captors and deprogrammers. Mr. Goto was held against his will for more than 12  years in an attempt to break his faith. He sued members of his family and  two deprogrammers. Details are expected soon regarding the wording of verdict and the amount of any fines against the guilty parties.

The case had received the attention of numerous international agencies,  including the UN Human Rights Council, the US State Department and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. 

The verdict was greeted with enthusiasm by human rights activists, who expressed hope that the verdict will represent an important precedent.  "I  am so very happy for him and all the victims of this horrible practice against  human rights!" said Kathryn Cameron Porter, president of  the Washington-DC 
Leadership Council for Human Rights.

ICRF president Dan Fefferman added:  "We  are hopeful that this  will be a turning point for Japan. "In the US,  deprogramming didn't come to an end until the courts made it clear that the  perpetrators of this crime would be punished."

Mr. Goto spoke to supporters in Tokyo immediately after the verdict was announced.(http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/43182915) A translation is expected soon.

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david.payer@iowalink.com (ICRF Editor) frontpage Wed, 29 Jan 2014 21:35:29 +0000
Keeping a Wary Eye on Burma's Military http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=628:burma-human-rights&catid=67:se-asia http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=628:burma-human-rights&catid=67:se-asia  

Burma's army

 

Obama's 'Asia rebalance' should not mean whitewashing Burma's human rights abuses


By Trent Franks, Jim Mcgovern


A vital component of the Obama administration's "Asia rebalance" is to bolster countries within Southeast Asia to counterbalance China's quickly expanding power. Among our refocused priorities in Asia is development and deepening of U.S. military-to-military relationships in the region. In addition to expanding relations with allies and partners such as the Philippines and Indonesia, the "Asia Rebalance" unfortunately means establishing a relationship with the Burmese military – a military with both a long and recent history of committing crimes against humanity.

In Southeast Asia, recent U.S. policy too often devolves into short-term accommodations of the region's interests, apparently in an effort to accumulate "soft power" which would presumably be useful at some later date. In the case of Burma, the Obama administration has found full engagement requires it to overlook Burma's dismal human rights record.

U.S. strategic interests depend on systemic change in Burma. Burma's military remains the largest obstacle to comprehensive government reform and continues to exert dominance over Burma's government, despite common American perceptions of Burma's government transferring power from military-to-civilian authority.

When President Obama committed the U.S. to a leadership role in Asia and first spoke about rebalancing our resources, he explicitly identified democracy and human rights as vital to his strategic vision. Obama argued that the "essence of America's leadership" in Asia was to support those who stood firm on the side of "free societies, free governments, free economies, [and] free people."

The Obama administration must not lose sight of its original designs for U.S.-Asia Pacific policy as it evaluates  military-to-military engagement with Burma. If future U.S. policy contradicts this focus on human rights, it will adversely impact Burma's democratic reform, particularly after more than twenty years of American support for democratic transition in Burma.

If the Obama administration proceeds too quickly with military-to-military contact, there is very grave risk of alienating many people in Burma. 40 percent of Burma's population are ethnic minorities who have suffered high degrees of violence and even "ethnic cleansing" by the Burmese military. Indeed, Burma is known as one of the top persecutors of Christians in the world and is carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslims.

One critical test case for Obama's strategic rebalance was considered by the U.S. House of Representatives during the recent vote on the National Defense Reauthorization Act. For the first time in more than thirty years, the National Defense Reauthorization Act includes provisions on the U.S-Burma military-to-military relationship. These provisions may potentially have far-reaching implications for U.S. strategic posturing in Asia.

Arguments for proceeding extremely cautiously on military-to-military engagement with Burma are coming from many bipartisan leaders on Capitol Hill. Provisions in this year's National Defense Reauthorization Act urge the Department of Defense to patiently assess military-to-military engagement with Burma and base engagement on the Burmese military's efforts to implement reforms, end impunity for human rights abuses and increase transparency and accountability.

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admin@iowalink.com (Ray Mas) frontpage Wed, 06 Nov 2013 16:59:12 +0000
The State Department's Great Leap Faithward http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=627:the-state-departments-great-leap-faithward&catid=62:issues-index http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=627:the-state-departments-great-leap-faithward&catid=62:issues-index The State Department's Great Leap Faithward
In February I wrote an article asking, Will Kerry Bring Faith to Foreign Policy? Six months into Kerry's tenure as Secretary of State the answer appears to be an emphatic yes -- though now begins the hard work of implementing his vision for religious engagement.
Last week Kerry officially launched the State Department's new Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives. The culmination of several years of concerted effort by Obama administration officials and their allies outside government, the new office has a mandate to, in Kerry words, "engage more closely with faith communities around the world, with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges."
To lead the office, Kerry turned to his friend Shaun Casey, a seminary professor who served as a faith outreach advisor on Obama's 2008 campaign. A Harvard-trained ethicist with expertise in just war theory, post-conflict reconstruction, and poverty, Casey is well suited to serve as Kerry's special advisor on faith-related issues.
As the State Department now has a multitude of specialized offices led by special advisors, it's easy to miss the special significance of Casey's new shop.
American diplomacy has taken a great leap faithward. It wasn't long ago that some scholars and former diplomats excoriated the State Department as "the home of secular fundamentalism," an agency afflicted with "secular myopia" and "Religion Avoidance Syndrome."
Critics pointed to the Department's vigorous opposition to congressional legislation in the late 1990s that ultimately created the Office of International Religious Freedom. Then, during the Bush administration, even after several federal agencies created faith-based offices, the State Department appeared to be of little faith.
To be fair, the State Department did pour billions of dollars into Muslim outreach in the aftermath of 9/11. But that public diplomacy effort focused primarily on making America more popular in the Middle East rather than on genuinely listening to and partnering with Muslims and other religious communities around the world on issues of mutual interest.
Organizational theory tells us that all institutions, including government agencies, have a distinctive organizational culture -- a complex set of norms, values, and systems that implicitly govern corporate life. That culture is cemented over time, becoming increasingly difficult to change. Among America's diplomats, it seems organizational culture included the strict separation of church and the State Department.
But that culture is changing. Under Clinton and now Kerry, the State Department has developed a wide range of religious engagement efforts that paved the way for the Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives. No congressional pressure was necessary. Engaging religious actors is increasingly viewed as part and parcel of American statecraft. A new U.S. Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement calls for broader collaboration with religious groups on sustainable development, human rights, and conflict mitigation.
Kerry underscored this strategy in his remarks announcing the faith-based office: "I say to my fellow State Department employees, all of them, wherever you are, I want to reinforce a simple message: I want you to go out and engage religious leaders and faith-based communities in our day-to-day work. Build strong relationships with them and listen to their insights and understand the important contributions that they can make individually and that we can make together. You will have the support of this Department in doing so."
Given the context of the remarks, Kerry's "simple message" was the most straightforward and forward-leaning directive on religious engagement ever voiced by an acting Secretary of State.
In her 2006 book The Mighty and the Almighty, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called for greater foreign policy attention to religion but lamented her own inattention to global religious dynamics during her time as America's top diplomat. As a corrective, she urged future diplomats to "learn as much as possible about religion, and then incorporate that knowledge into their strategies."
Kerry is putting Albright's advice into practice. But the faith-based office is not an end in itself. It's just the end of the beginning. What waits to be seen now is what impact Kerry's directive and the new office will have on the State Department's ability to advance U.S. interests in a faith-filled world.
Creating a hopeful office doesn't guarantee the hoped for outcomes. Still, my former State Department colleague, Peter Mandaville, has argued that the new office "has the potential to be genuinely transformational with respect to how the United States does diplomacy."
To realize its transformative potential, the faith-based office must continue to shape the Department's culture in a more faith-attentive direction--by both modeling constructive religious engagement and by training colleagues to go and do likewise. After all, most faith-based engagement will take place outside the faith-based office, principally in U.S. embassies overseas. Our diplomats need to be better equipped to address the complex ways religious beliefs and motivations intertwine with politics, economics, and other issues.
Admittedly, religion is a diplomatic and constitutional minefield. It's often quite tricky for diplomats, especially those not well versed in religion, to know who, when, where, and how to engage.
But the why is always clear. As Melissa Rogers, Director of the White House faith-based office, said at the launch event last week, "The potential for religious communities to spark both positive and negative movement makes it essential for the United States to understand these communities and to engage with them. As the State Department does its work around the world, it must have a firm grasp of these dynamics and it must know how to address them in ways that are informed and intelligent."
In other words, diplomatic engagement with religious groups is in U.S. national interests. That's ultimately why it matters. And that's why the faithward evolution of the State Department's culture and the creation of the faith-based office are such promising developments.

by Judd Birdsall

BirdsallIn February I wrote an article asking, Will Kerry Bring Faith to Foreign Policy?  Six months into Kerry's tenure as Secretary of State the answer appears to be an emphatic yes -- though now begins the hard work of implementing his vision for religious engagement.

Last week Kerry officially launched the State Department's new Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives. The culmination of several years of concerted effort by Obama administration officials and their allies outside government, the new office has a mandate to, in Kerry words, "engage more closely with faith communities around the world, with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges."

To lead the office, Kerry turned to his friend Shaun Casey, a seminary professor who served as a faith outreach advisor on Obama's 2008 campaign. A Harvard-trained ethicist with expertise in just war theory, post-conflict reconstruction, and poverty, Casey is well suited to serve as Kerry's special advisor on faith-related issues.

As the State Department now has a multitude of specialized offices led by special advisors, it's easy to miss the special significance of Casey's new shop.

American diplomacy has taken a great leap faithward. It wasn't long ago that some scholars and former diplomats excoriated the State Department as "the home of secular fundamentalism," an agency afflicted with "secular myopia" and "Religion Avoidance Syndrome."

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admin@iowalink.com (Ray Mas) frontpage Wed, 21 Aug 2013 17:29:06 +0000
Behind the Glass Wall of FECRIS http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=625:behind-the-glass-wall-of-fecris&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=625:behind-the-glass-wall-of-fecris&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50  

Bashy Quraishy, Chairman of European Network Against Racism Advisory Council (ENAR), Chair of the European Platform for Jewish Muslim Cooperation, and 
bashy quraishy
Secretary General for the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO) was excited to attend the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects (FECRIS) meeting after receiving an invitation from their Treasurer. The secrecy he witnessed and the harassment he experienced shocked him.

 

“I was disgusted by the tone of the speeches there, the campaigns they were making against certain religions, and how secretive they were,” Quraishy said.

Formed in 1994, FECRIS, labeled an NGO, claims to be “politically, philosophically, and religiously neutral.” However, 93 percent of the “NGO’s” funding comes directly from the French government. With this backing, FECRIS appears to command an army working to take down unconventional religions across the Western sphere.

The FECRIS website states that members agree to a series of principles, including “respect of religious, philosophical, and political pluralism” as well as “objectivity and pragmatism.” However, Quraishy watched one speaker after another “making campaigns against certain sects and certain religions” and “not one suggestion about how to deal with the issues,” he explained in a video interview.

The FECRIS website also states that the organization “alert[s] public authorities and international institutions in the event of punishable activities.” However, when Quraishy asked FECRIS President Tom Sackville after biased presentations why FECRIS doesn’t “take people to court instead of making campaigns and why are the conferences so secretive,” he was met with hostility.

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mshenkin@syr.edu (Mary Henkin) frontpage Tue, 16 Jul 2013 23:43:57 +0000
When Universal Human Rights Violators Go Unchecked: Remembering a Religious Kidnapping Victim http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=624:remembering-a-japanese-religious-kidnapping-victim&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=624:remembering-a-japanese-religious-kidnapping-victim&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50  

July 13 marked the tragic anniversary of Takako Fujita’s suicide. Fujita, a Japanese Unification Church member, was 27 when she took her life after family members
Takako Fujita, 27
and deprogrammers held her in captivity for four months.

 

Sixteen years later, kidnappings and forced religious de-conversions remain an issue in Japan, invoking physical and psychological pain on Unification Church members.

“The failure to provide the victims of such kidnappings with equal protection under the law, and the impunity of those responsible, constitutes a serious violation of the Japanese people’s constitutionally guaranteed rights and the international human rights standard to which Japan is legally bound,” Human Rights Without Frontiers Chairman Willy Fautré said.

Fujita was introduced to the Unification Church during her first year at Kacho College, Kyoto, where she was studying social welfare. She officially joined the church in June 1989 and was “blessed” (married) to Mr. Lee, a South Korean, in 1995. In 1996 Fujita officially moved to South Korea to live with her husband.

On March 8, 1997 Fujita visited Japan, excited to spend time with her family. When her husband phoned her parents’ home the next evening, he reached the answering machine. He assured himself the family was on an outing. Fujita’s friend later contacted her father’s work, trying to get in touch. She was told Mr. Fujita was on a long vacation. Finally, a co-worker told a family friend that Mr. Fujita was on leave, working on bringing his daughter out of the Unification Church.

 

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mshenkin@syr.edu (Mary Henkin) frontpage Mon, 15 Jul 2013 16:11:13 +0000
U.S. State Department Receives Failing Marks as Religious Freedom Watchdog at IRFA Hearing http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=623:us-state-department-receives-failing-marks-as-religious-freedom-watchdog-at-irfa-hearing&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=623:us-state-department-receives-failing-marks-as-religious-freedom-watchdog-at-irfa-hearing&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 On June 13, 2013 the first Congressional hearing for the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) was held since former President Clinton signed the bill.department_of_state.svgIRFA states the U.S. Government must “strengthen [its] advocacy” of religious freedom, but fifteen years later religious persecution has reached its peak worldwide.

According to a 2012 PEW Research Center’s Forum On Religion and Public Life report, “three-quarters of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion,” a five percent rise from the previous year.

IRFA was passed with the purpose of monitoring global religious freedom by sanctioning countries whose government violently suppresses its citizens’ rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and worship. Three entities were created by IRFA to ensure its effectiveness – an International Religious Freedom Office within the State Department headed by an Ambassador-at-Large, a bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and a Special Advisor on International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council.

The hearing’s panel included five witnesses: 

  • Katrina Lantos Swett, Ph.D., Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
  • Thomas F. Farr, Ph.D., Director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs
  • Ms. Tina Ramirez, veteran religious freedom activist and President of Hardwired, Inc.
  • N. Mahmood Ahmad, Assistant National Director of Public Affairs at Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA
  • Chris Seiple, Ph.D., President of Institute for Global Engagement 

Several speakers noted Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook’s absence from the panel, although she reportedly accepted the invitation to testify.

According to Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the State Department notified Johnson Cook of the scheduled hearing in May. However, after learning Johnson Cook would be sharing a panel with witnesses from Non-Government Organizations, the State Department refused to send any representative. Chaffetz called Johnson Cook’s absence “terribly disappointing” and “a waste of Congress’ time.” 

The panelists expressed their discontent that while USCIRF annually designates Countries of Particular Concern (CPC’s) for the State Department to consider, the State Department has not named a single CPC since August 2011, although it is mandatory for it to do so annually. Designated CPC’s lose their status after two years, so the State Department has until August to release names, Lantos Swett said.

Religious persecution is a global security issue, Lantos Swett emphasized, citing 9/11. There are countless examples of government officials or private citizens carrying out violent acts in the name of religion, both at home and cross-border.

]]> mshenkin@syr.edu (Mary Henkin) frontpage Thu, 20 Jun 2013 19:47:05 +0000 Eritrea: Hidden Gem or Intolerant Tyranny? http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=621:eritrea-hidden-gem-or-intolerant-tyranny&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=621:eritrea-hidden-gem-or-intolerant-tyranny&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 Eritrea has been referred to as “The Hidden Gem in Africa” because of its rich history and natural attractions. Yahoo! published a travel article in 2007, advertising

churchesndmosque_eritreaEritrea as a prime family vacation destination. The article mentions ancient ruins, scuba diving, snorkeling, and religious attractions. It describes Eritrea’s town of Asmara as a place where Christians and Muslims harmoniously coexist.
In reality, Eritrea is suffering from an oppressive government, which has not changed presidents since 1993 and often arrests people practicing a religion other than one of the four registered religions – Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Sunni Muslim.

This past May 37 Christian students from the College of Arts and Social Sciences in the Eritrean town of Adi Kihe and five men from the Church of the Living God in Asmara were arrested for practicing an unregistered strain of Christianity, Charisma News reported.

“Eritrea is one of the most repressive, secretive, and inaccessible countries in the world,” Amnesty International’s Eritrea Researcher, Claire Beston, told the BBC. 

According to the U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, 1,500 people were imprisoned in Eritrea because of their religious beliefs last year. At least 105 arrests were Christians, 31 of which died in prison, the World Watch List reported.

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mshenkin@syr.edu (Mary Henkin) frontpage Wed, 12 Jun 2013 15:54:02 +0000
Hate Crimes Toward Coptic Christians in Egypt Continue http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=620:hate-crimes-toward-coptic-christians-in-egypt-continue&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=620:hate-crimes-toward-coptic-christians-in-egypt-continue&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 Coptic Christians continue to be the targets of hate crimes in Egypt. This past week two Coptic churches were attacked by Muslim mobs, resulting in several injuries

Coptic Icon St. Mark
and one death, Assyrian International News Agency reported. Both attacks took place after Coptic men allegedly harassed two Muslim women.
The most recent attack took place on May 19th. Official reports state that Copt Basem Ramzy Michael allegedly extended himself over his balcony to look into the flat of a Muslim woman living below him. The witness was Hamada Alloshy, a registered criminal. A fight broke out between Copts and Muslims, which moved to the church of St. Mary in the Dakhela district, west of Alexandria. Several hundred Copts joined the fight to protect their church.  Muslims shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they threw Molotov cocktails and bricks at the crowd of Copts.

Sedky Sherif, 36, was one of the men who rushed to defend his church. While official reports state he “died of fright,” his family and witnesses say, “his body was full of bruises and marks from bird shots.” Sherif’s nephew, Rabah, was with him when he died. He claims, “1,000 Copts were present and were attacked by more than 20,000 Muslims.” A death certificate issued for Sherif states the “cause of death as ‘under investigation.’”

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mshenkin@syr.edu (Mary Henkin) frontpage Wed, 05 Jun 2013 17:41:26 +0000
China Remains a 'Country of Particular Concern' http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=619:china-remains-a-country-of-particular-concern&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=619:china-remains-a-country-of-particular-concern&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2013 Annual Report on the state of international religious freedom on April 30. China was once again listed under “countries of particular concern.” The report notes the government’s continuing mistreatment toward the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.

USCIRF also noted the Chinese government’s rise in mistreatment toward Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims.Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen speaking at a rally opposing Falun Gong persecution.

Falun Gong emerged in China in the 1990’s. While the Communist government originally offered its support to the qigong exercise-based communities, Falun Gong’s spiritual philosophy became perceived as a threat to national security and social harmony as its numbers rose.

According to the USCIRF report, Falun Gong members “face some of the most intense and violent forms of persecution.” Members are jailed, forced to renounce their faith, or sent to detention centers where they are tortured. Furthermore, it is hard to find anyone in China to legally speak against the oppression Falun Gong members face. According to the USCIRF report, “The Chinese government also continues to harass, detain, intimidate, and disbar attorneys who defend members of vulnerable religious groups.”

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mshenkin@syr.edu (Mary Henkin) frontpage Wed, 08 May 2013 15:55:46 +0000
Japanese Unification Church Member Missing http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=617:japanese-unification-church-member-missing&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=617:japanese-unification-church-member-missing&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 "T.I.” (whose name is protected for privacy) was apparently abducted against his will. He had three cell phones, an unusually high number for a college student, even in technology-rich Japan. One was for everyday use, one was a back-up phone, and one’s specific purpose was its GPS locator. T.I. knew about cases involving parents kidnapping their adult child to reverse their decision to join the Unification Church. He was prepared for this possibility.

for web

A senior in the College of Science and Engineering at Kanazawa University, 21-year-old T.I. is an adult under Japanese law, which guarantees his right to religious freedom, including the right to adopt a religion which is different from one’s family of origin. T.I. joined the Unification Church’s Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP) in April, 2011. He then moved into a CARP dormitory that summer.

 

T.I. informed his family about his affiliation with CARP in June, 2012. His mother reportedly became distraught and asked him to leave the dormitory as soon as possible. His father also opposed to his choice of religion, but did not pressure him about it. While T.I. continued living in the CARP dormitory, he maintained regular communication with his family and informed them that he had received a solid job offer from a non-church company to employ him after his graduation.

 

Unification Church member Mr. S. lives in the same neighborhood as T.I.’s family. When T.I. visited home last New Year’s Day, he asked Mr. S. for help in case T.I.’s parents were to kidnap him.

 

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mshenkin@syr.edu (Mary Henkin) frontpage Wed, 01 May 2013 00:33:58 +0000