Local News

Religious Leaders Convened by OAS Analyzed Dialogue with States of Latin America and the Caribbean

Washington, DC – Religious leaders from throughout the Western Hemisphere convened by the Organization of American States (OAS) analyzed the subject, “Dialogue between Religious Communities and the States of Latin America and the Caribbean,” during the Organization’s 36th Policy Round Table, held in Washington, DC.

Participants in the two panels—“Religious Freedom and Non-discrimination” and “The Contribution of Religious Leaders to the Design of Public Policies”—were Robert John Araujo, S.J., Professor in the School of Law at Loyola University; Muhamma Yusuf Hallar, Vice Moderator of the Latin American and Caribbean Council of Religious Leaders “Religions for Peace” and Secretary General of the Islamic Organization of Latin America and the Caribbean (OIPALC); Claudio Epelman, Vice Moderator of the Latin American and Caribbean Council of Religious Leaders “Religions for Peace” and Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Council (CJL); Julio Murray, President of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI); Ajq’ijab Cirilio Pérez, Chief Elder of the Continental Council of Indigenous Elders and Spiritual Guides of the Americas and Extraordinary Itinerary Ambassador for Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala; and Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). The sessions were moderated by Nerea Aparicio, specialist in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and Evelyn Zentner de Falck, coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Women of Faith.

The Director of the OAS Department of International Affairs, Irene Klinger, recalled that the treatment of discrimination and exclusion in general, including the religious kind, “has been present in the international juridical framework and at the OAS, and occupy and important place on the agenda, as well as the promotion and protection of human rights in general.” Also, she asserted that “through the different resolutions issued by the General Assemblies of our Organization, the Member States of the OAS have considered for several years that racism and discrimination in their diverse forms threaten the principles and practices of democracy as a way of life and government and, most certainly, seek its destruction.”

Robert John Araujo, of the School of Law of the University of Loyola, recalled that authentic religious freedom is a right belonging to people because of their nature and dignity, and is not conferred by the State; also, it can serve as an “antidote” to the problems that persist in some modern societies. “Today we live in a world where, as Pope John Paul reminded us in 1988, religious freedom is an essential condition for peace, for justice; and even in the Western democracies of which we are a part this is not always the case, our Western cultures of today are highly secular, and though this in itself is not the problem, the problem emerges when these cultures demand full cooperation with the platform of nominalism, exaggerated individual autonomy, and a lack of understanding of the common good that is designed to achieve an objective moral order.”

Muhammad Yusuf Hallar, of the Islamic Organization of Latin America and the Caribbean (OIPALC), recalled that currently there exists a tendency to “politicize the different religions and turn them into military ideologies at the service of political economic interests and of a doctrinaire fanaticism.” That is why he highlighted the importance of interreligious dialogue, which “is no longer a protocolary language, but an appeal to the human conscience so the protagonists of retrograde traditionalism and ideological politicians may stop manipulating international affairs as circles closed to but a few, and to make of values and the moral ethical system a base for the progress of humanity.”

Claudio Epelman, Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress (CJL), said that freedom of religion has to do with “each person’s identity and the way in which each person chooses to express himself or herself and acquire the possibility for transcendence and religious communication with God, creator of the universe,” which, he argued, means that the negation of this right “is to deny the right to be ourselves.” In this sense, he highlighted the importance for a society to choose the right mechanisms to fight discrimination. “In all societies there exist radicals, extremists, crazy people who doubtless will carry out acts of discrimination, but that does not have to be what characterizes a society, but rather how a society as a whole reacts before this factor of discrimination and how mechanisms are generated within a society to protect, in this case, the weakest.”

Julio Murray, President of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), recalled that Latin America and the Caribbean “have lived important transformations,” though “we have realized that in the last few years this panorama of change also has become degenerated, and there have been some steps backward.” This fact, he asserted, raises the significance of the role of religious leaders in the design of public policies. “Churches and organizations that belong to the Latin American Council of Churches do not wish to identify with any one government, because it is not enough for our societies to have only peaks of democracy while lacking a solid base in civil society that may help in making that democracy sustainable,” he said. “Democracies without an organized civil society, with a clear political vision, run the great risk of slipping into chaotic democratism or towards populist authoritarianism.”

Ajq’ijab Cirilio Pérez, Chief Maya Elder, said that “since the creation of the State” the Mayan people have been left “at the margins of society,” and that legislators “never have taken us into account” in the design of public policies. He recalled that “culture is the greatest richness of a people,” that it “constitutes the thread of its history, its tradition and the sustainability of its identity,” and that therefore it “must be respected by the authorities of the State.” Pérez concluded by making a call for mankind to change “its way of being,” its “way of living” and that “we understand that we are flowers of the earth and not destroyers of mother earth.”

Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations for the United States National Association of Evangelicals, highlighted from the Evangelical Christian perspective that religious leaders contribute to public policies through the articulation of moral values, among which the primary one is human dignity. He also emphasized that personal freedom originates in human dignity and that governments must act in a limited way, with checks and balances, with power distributed among a variety of institutions. Finally, he said that “we need to protect churches and religious communities from being used by politicians,” and “we need to create a space where all people who come in to our community to worship are equally welcome regardless of their political commitments. When we do that we will retain the authenticity which we need as religious communities.”

In conclusion, Elías Szczytnicki, Secretary General and Regional Director of Religions for Peace Latin America and the Caribbean, an organization that collaborated with the OAS in organizing the event, said that “we trust that in this event will be one more step forward towards the continuation of our work with the OAS, along with the Latin American and Caribbean Council of Religious Leaders, in building a permanent mechanism to link faith-based communities and the inter-American system.”

The Round Table was held in the context of the commemoration of the Tenth Anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which in its Article 9 states: “The elimination of all forms of discrimination, especially gender, ethnic and race discrimination, as well as diverse forms of intolerance, the promotion and protection of human rights of indigenous peoples and migrants, and respect for ethnic, cultural and religious diversity in the Americas contribute to strengthening democracy and citizen participation.”

Related Articles

Back to top button