Background: The House International Relations Committee today passed a bill provision authored by U.S. Representative Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to protect the religious and human rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey. The provision was included in a State Department bill, which now goes to the full House of Representatives.
Washington, DC - Menendez made the following statement on the passage of his bill provision:
"Mr. Chairman, those who support religious freedom around the world have raised their voices to support the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, Turkey. During the Helsinki Commission's briefing on the Ecumenical Patriarch this past March, individuals from many faiths testified against the egregious abuses of the Turkish government against the Ecumenical Patriarch, including Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation; Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Catholic Archbishop of Washington; Dr. Anthony Limberakis, National Commander of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle; and Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. If we are to truly support religious freedoms, we must not be silent now.
"The European Union is scheduled to begin accession negotiations with Turkey this October. I am deeply concerned by this because of Turkey's discriminatory actions towards religious minorities in Turkey such as the Greek Orthodox. The elimination of discrimination of any type must be an essential part of any country's accession negotiations.
"Mr. Chairman, this amendment addresses the treatment and conditions under which the Ecumenical Patriarchate has suffered, and continues to suffer, at the hands of the Turkish government. The Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians in the United States and throughout the world. Yet the Turkish Government continues to violate the Ecumenical Patriarchate's religious rights and freedoms. Clearly, Turkey has much more to do to eliminate religious discrimination."
The Government of Turkey:
* Refuses to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarch's international status and its significance to Orthodox Christians the world over;
* Allows only Turkish nationals to be candidates available to the Holy Synod for selection as the Ecumenical Patriarch;
* Refuses to reopen the Theological School at Halki, the only Greek Orthodox theological institute in Turkey, which impedes training for the clergy;
* Has confiscated 75% of Ecumenical Patriarchal properties since 2002; and
* Has levied a 42% retroactive tax on the Balukli Hospital, a philanthropic institution run by the Ecumenical Patriarchate which treats 30,000-40,000 patients a year.
"That is why I have offered this amendment which will help protect the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.