TRENTON, N.J., June 29, 2006 -- The Order of St. Andrew registered a triumph this week, when the New Jersey state legislature unanimously passed a resolution urging Turkey to respect the rights and religious freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.
The bill was introduced in the Senate in January, jointly sponsored by Senators Bob Smith (D-Dist.17) and Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr. (R-Dist. 13), and received by the State Assembly in May, co-sponsored by Assemblymen Steve Corodemus (R-Dist. 11) and Upendra J. Chivukula (D-Dist. 17) who is of Pakistani descent. As Turkey continues to negotiate its possible admission into the European Union, the Archons are urging U.S. leaders to require the Turkish government to respect human rights for all its citizens.
The New Jersey resolution "calls on the Government of Turkey to eliminate all forms of discrimination, particularly based on race or religion, and immediately grant the Ecumenical Patriarchate appropriate international recognition, ecclesiastic succession and the right to train clergy of all nationalities." It also encouraged Turkey "to continue advancement of processes and programs to modernize and democratize its society in light of its potential accession to the European Union."
"Turkey should be doing the right thing, should be acknowledging the human rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate," said Corodemus.
In May, Archon Panos Stavrianidis and Very Rev. Alexander Kile of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Piscataway testified before a State Senate committee to the Turkish government’s religious discriminatory policies which threaten to eliminate the Patriarchate. The government has confiscated 75 percent of the Patriarchate's properties over the past 80 years, denies it any legal status or ability to manage its own affairs without harsh restrictions, requires the Ecumenical Patriarch to be a Turkish citizen while severely restricting visas to clergy from other nations, and refuses to reopen the seminary on Halki island, which it forcibly closed in 1971.
"It's a huge victory for religious freedom that the entire legislature of New Jersey has called upon the Turkish government to cease and desist their persecutory policies," said National Commander Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, adding that he hoped every other state legislature would follow suit.
In presenting the bill to his colleagues in the assembly, Corodemus asked them to imagine if the Italian government insisted that every pope be an Italian citizen, "foreclosing all the other wonderful popes we've had over the years."
"They quickly understood that analogy, and unanimously supported the bill," he said.
He noted that since the bill still awaits Gov. Jon S. Corzine's signature, "the job is not over now." "This is a good opportunity for the human rights community to organize, and to impress upon the governor how important this is," said Corodemus.
New Jersey Archon Savas C. Tsivicos, who lobbied state lawmakers for more than a month on the resolution, praised Corodemus and Chivukala for their support.
"There were a lot of ups and downs -- it's not as easy as it sounds," said Tsivicos. "There were a lot of people who worked. The community was well-mobilized."