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Religious Freedom and World Peace PDF Print E-mail

Dong Moon Joo
The Washington Times Corporation

delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on 
"Religious Freedom in Latin America and the New Millennium"
October 10-12, 1998, Sheraton Mofarrej Hotel, Sao Paolo, Brazil

Mr. Chairman, Honorable Dr. Marco Polo, Chancellor Robert Muller, Dr. Elliot Abrams, Honorable former U.S. Senator Larry Pressler, distinguished colleagues, participants from around the world, ladies and gentlemen.

As a person who is working at a daily newspaper in the capital city of the United States, I have a chance to see frequent evidence of the increase in religious persecution throughout the world. As this is always considered a painful obstacle to world peace, I welcome the opportunity to address the topic "Religious Freedom and World Peace."

Historical Roots of Religious Persecution

Relations among various religions and between religious and secular forces manifest a passionate expression of the human effort to pursue the freedom of conscience and faith. For example, in the first century in Korea, Monk Lee Cha Don refused to accept the order of the king to abandon his religion of Buddhism, which was supposedly disloyal to the king’s sovereignty. He willingly sacrificed his life and became an example that inspired the conversion of Korea to Buddhism. As another example, in Korea in the mid-19th century, the government persecuted another strange-looking religion—Christianity. Rather than betraying their God and violating their conscience, several hundred Christian believers, most of whom were Catholics, became martyrs for their faith and more than 100 of them have been canonized as saints.

About 400 to 500 years ago, however, this type of relationship between secular and religious power went through great changes in many parts of the Western world. Individuals could find God by pursuing truth directly from their sacred scriptures and through their own consciences. I believe the United States of America is a prime example of a nation founded on these principles. Many argue that the heart and soul of the United States, including the foundations for her stunning prosperity, is her deep-seated commitment to religious freedom. Many democratic nations around the world see the United States as a good example for their own commitment to religious freedom.

When the Cold War ended, the world was liberated from the dangerous conflict between the superpowers and from the violent and militant denial of religious liberty and human rights by Communist powers. However, despite the end of the Cold War, we still see many examples of threats to religious freedom. Furthermore, this is not limited to developing areas or underdeveloped areas, but is found even in advanced democratic countries, often with the compliance or support of established faiths.

Ladies and gentlemen, as one who works in the field of journalism, I have a natural concern for freedom of the press and freedom of speech. These widely recognized rights exist to protect the domain of communication among human beings. Religion, on the other hand, is concerned with communication between human beings and God. Why is freedom of speech among human beings so widely upheld, while the communication between God and human beings is so frequently assailed? The assumption of any government, established religion, or other power to interfere with the sacred communication between any person and God is not only tragic; it is unjust.

Here is an irony of history: every major world religion began as a minor movement considered heretical in the era of its founding. However, with the passing of time they became major influences on civilization and came to be considered mainstream. The motivating force for each such religion was an inspired religious conscience coupled with a thirst for spiritual renewal. Nevertheless, as these movements became institutionalized over time, the spring of spiritual life that empowered their earlier years occasionally became dry. In some cases, vitality and dynamic growth gave way to an inflexible and self-protective culture, like the hardened trunk of a tree. Thus, aspects of these movements that began as vehicles of liberation became ossified into mechanisms of oppression.

Religious persecution in the 1990s includes attacks on worship, social service, evangelism, fundraising, and even the very basic freedom of one’s own conscience. These violations take many forms, such as torture, execution, economic oppression, suppression of free movement and travel, and forcible kidnapping for what is insidiously called deprogramming.

Why We Need Religious Freedom

I suggest that there are three primary reasons why mankind needs religious freedom in this era. The first is related to the global movement toward democratization. The second is related to the emergence of the information age. And the third is related to the desperate need for a new faith-based culture that can prevent further moral and ethical decline.

World Trend Toward Democratization

With the end of the Cold War, the world has moved rapidly toward democratization. The time-tested principles of free elections’ freedom of speech, of the press, of movement, of association; and of course, the freedom to pursue commerce in open markets, are the foundations of a free society.

I suggest that the most essential freedom of all is the freedom of religious conscience, the freedom to worship, to believe, and to practice the faith of one’s choosing. Without religious freedom, the freedoms of speech, of the press, of association, of movement, and of the marketplace are incomplete, and ultimately impossible.

Democracy is based on the value and dignity of the individual. As the Honorable Brazilian Congressman Josè Marìa Eymael stated yesterday, the source of human value comes from our Creator. Because we are created in God’s image as His children, we each have absolute value. This provides the basis for human equality, since we are all equal under God’s love. Preventing people from freely seeking God threatens the basis of this equal value. Safeguarding this basis for equal human value is the fundamental justification for religious freedom.

In 1777, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Bill to Establish Religious Freedom,

Almighty God has created the mind free . . . No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.

The right to worship, to gather in religious communities of faith, and to practice one’s faith according to the dictates of conscience is the most fundamental human right and should be guaranteed by every state, religious group, and other power in the world.

The desire for religious freedom throughout history has been God’s providential instrument for humankind to move closer to Him. Humankind has pursued freedom in the realms of politics, economy, social structure, and culture throughout history. Nevertheless, the final frontier in the pursuit of human freedom is to secure the way of our conscience as we return to God. The human conscience is our guide to return to God. Religion exists to support the development of the conscience and should not suffer from economic or political pressure.

As the Second Vatican Council declared:

The right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God. . . It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters of religion.

Recent actions by the U.S. Congress demonstrate a refreshed commitment to safeguarding religious freedom worldwide. Earlier this year, the "Freedom from Religious Persecution Act" passed the U.S. Congress with an overwhelming majority. The most recent news is that, on October 9, the Senate unanimously passed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. These bills make it more likely that governments that abuse their religious minorities will face some kind of U.S. economic sanction. Although some may debate the wisdom or effectiveness of such sanctions, I think we can all applaud the fact that religious freedom is becoming an increasingly important agenda item in the United States and throughout the world!

The regard the United States has shown for religious freedom is the foundation of her political and economic freedom. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights formed a nation that aggressively supports religious freedom as a prevailing idea. Although most of the United States’ foreign aid has been aimed at economic and political concerns, these recent measures to support the freedom of faith are a welcome sign indeed.

Emergence of the Information Age

The pursuits of the mind and heart as well as movements of the physical person have been influenced by astonishing advances in communication. Due to the silicon chip and fiber optic connections, the world is fast becoming a unified global network. With advancements in telecommunications, the Internet, satellite technology, broadcast media, and print technology, the worlds of information, knowledge, and the search for what is meaningful and true has opened up to everyone. The exploration of truth should be available to every interested person and should not be constrained by traditions, doctrines, and ideology.

In the past, the exclusive source of knowledge may have been the clergy and scholars, but in today’s world of instant research, information about nearly everything is available to everyone at any time in any place. Modern society beckons for spiritual life that is reasonable, understandable, and knowable by all.

In this regard, the world needs a learning environment that is free from past limitations of narrow, restrictive doctrine in every field, including religion. Some may consider this a threatening situation, but others see this as a natural historical progress. What can be done to avoid unnecessary struggles between existing religious traditions or between newer and more established religious traditions? As we move toward greater communication through technology, people of conscience and faith should pave the way through an emphasis on dialogue and understanding.

New Global Cultural Challenge

Without the underpinnings of a moral society, no governmental or economic system will endure. A moral society cannot flourish unless its citizens can be free to nurture and follow the dictates of their conscience.

Although modern civilization has brought many good things, we also recognize that the modern era is plagued with materialism, selfish individualism, and a destructive tendency toward hedonism. Today, throughout the world we see moral and spiritual corruption and the subsequent breakdown of the family. Shocking occurrences of extreme violence and sexual perversions among the young show these problems to have reached nearly uncontrollable levels. These trends challenge the relevance of the religious life and render the conscience numb and mute. Some aspects of modern culture have become like a depraved thief robbing the innocence of our children. Responding to the threat of moral chaos is more urgent than protecting the interests of competing religions or any political body.

Reversing this cultural decline must be our primary focus and greatest concern. Secular structures such as political, economic, military, and legal powers and even religious institutions have proven incompetent in dealing with those issues.

As we enter the new millennium, the repeated historical cycle of religious intolerance between established religious bodies and new religious movements—and between the secular states and people of faith—must end. Even beyond tolerance and dialogue, when religious leaders unite with a common purpose, they can lead a new moral renaissance. Every hand is needed for this urgent task, North and South, East and West, big and small, old and new. On the foundation of religious freedom, beyond race, nation, and creed, people of conscience are called upon to demonstrate the positive fruits of their faith.

The quest for religious freedom need not be seen as offensive to existing faiths or religious organizations. Instead, let us share in these proceedings with an open mind, with the heart to strengthen and enhance each believer’s freedom of conscience. If we can imagine God’s perspective, religious freedom is not a challenge to established religious organizations at all, but it opens the way for each person’s original mind to seek the truth and become closer to God.

Political Power and Religion in South America

We are now in a position to bring to fruition the universal longing for freedom. Man’s search for meaning, truth, and freedom gave birth to religious reform, democratic institutions, the free market system, and matchless developments in science and medicine that laid the groundwork for modern society.

Since the Cold War, Latin America has been moving in a similar fashion toward political and economic freedom. Everywhere we look, people are energized through free elections. Latin America attracts international investment as its economic base develops through free markets and privatization of industry and technology. Here I must emphasize that, as other nations have learned, lasting democracy and prosperity are impossible unless religious freedom is upheld.

The spread of Communism influenced the character of church and state relations during the Cold War. Since then, the political situation in Latin America has changed dramatically. The trend toward democratization impacts many areas of life, including church-state relations. How established religions behave also needs to evolve to reflect the changing situation. As societies become increasingly open, the Catholic Church can provide vital leadership in respecting the pursuit of conscience and supporting genuine religious freedom for all believers and for all denominations and faiths.

Vision for the Third Millennium: One World Under God

In closing, ladies and gentlemen, the most essential current flowing through history has always been the moral force of religion and freedom of conscience. This is not simply an expression of human culture but is a manifestation of God’s providence. Because this is motivated by human conscience, which is rooted in God, no social, political, or military force can withstand its progress. In this light, I believe that God has called us together today.

Because no one group can solve today’s social problems alone, every religious organization must support freedom of conscience and freedom of religious life for all. Let us reaffirm God’s desire for all religious institutions to overcome destructive, secular cultural trends. Especially, we must strengthen the family. To this end, we urge governments to recognize, respect, protect, and support the principles of democracy, which are based on individual civil liberties and basic human rights, including religious freedom.

Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the founder of The Washington Times, has maintained a profound commitment to freedom of conscience, because he is confident that this will ultimately lead us to faith in God. Rev. Moon sees religious liberty as the essential root of world peace. During a recent international speaking tour, he stated that the goal of history is beyond "one nation under God," or "one denomination under God," but ultimately is "one world under God." As we recognize our common origin and identity as God’s children, true unity can emerge. Our colleague, Adrian Karatnycky of Freedom House, refers to the "transcendent idea of equality of human beings as the creations of God, and as the expression of God’s creative design." This is why all people have the right to pursue their own relationship with God.

Ladies and gentlemen, through this conference I urge you to reconfirm the absolute importance of religious freedom. This cannot be a one-time effort that ends with the adjournment of our conference. We are called to fulfill the universal religious and spiritual impulse for unity and freedom under God. This will launch the new millennium based on a higher dimension of love and unity between and among our Creator and us. Together, let us be responsible to enter a 21st century in which religious freedom blossoms like spring throughout the world. Can world peace be achieved in any other way?