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Religious Persecution of Assyrian Christians

Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000 at 05:46 PM CT


[Mr. Blagojevich] America was founded on religious freedom, and settled by people who were seeking a land where they could worship fee from persecution. The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act was written in this spirit.

When we speak of the need to promote democracy in our world, religious freedom should not be considered ancillary to this goal. In fact, freedom of conscience is a cornerstone of all democratic rights. Our own freedom of speech and freedom of association grew out of the efforts of the first European immigrants to this land to worship, to preach and to form churches of their choice. One of the founding documents of our democracy is the Mayflower Compact, an agreement resting on the idea of the mutual consent of the governed, and written by people who voyaged halfway around the world to find a place where they could worship according to their conscience.

Today our freedoms serve as an inspiration for others around the world. That is why so many people seek to come to these shores, to live their lives in the manner they see fit, to raise their families with their values and their beliefs, and to search for truth and inspiration as they define it. The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act is our answer to those people who look to the United States as a beacon of religious liberty.

One of these is the Assyrian people. Our esteemed colleague from California, Anna Eshoo, is of Assyrian descent.

In recent years, Assyrians have been subject to gross violations of their rights. Murder, rape, assault, and forced conversions to Islam have become commonplace as armed death squads attempt to force Assyrians out of their ancestral home.

In Iraq, Assyrians suffer at the hands of both the government of Saddam Hussein and the Kurdish rebels who battle for control of the northern part of that country. According to Amnesty International, the two main Kurdish factions in Iraq support "assassination squads," who hunt Assyrians and other minorities.

But much of the assault on Assyrian culture is less overt. Last week in northern Iraq, every Assyrian student was told that he or she could only attend Kurdish secondary schools. This oppressive move forces Assyrians to sacrifice their language, their culture and their identity.

Just last week, the members of this house voted to support opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime. But our support for an alternative to Hussein's dictatorship is hollow if we do not insist that the alternative also uphold democratic values and respect the rights of all people.

The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act will provide the United States government with a powerful tool to ensure respect for religious diversity and freedom of conscience.

We often view America's role as a global leader in terms of economic wealth or military might, but as Henry Kissinger said, "our nation cannot rest its policy on power alone." America's leadership comes from our commitment to powerful ideals. I urge my colleagues to support the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act to further those ideals.


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