Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at the Falun Gong Rally
July 23, 2002
Contact:Alexis Rice or Erin Glazer 202-387-2800
It is with a profound sense of both honor and responsibility that I join in this gathering today in support of Falun Gong. The honor is to stand in solidarity with so many civic, religious, and political leaders of distinction on the morally vital issue of religious freedom. The responsibility is for me as an American Jew. For both Jewish history and American values compel me to stand here with you today.
Tragically, over many centuries, we Jews have been among the quintessential victims of religious persecution, precisely because, in the face of the oppression and degradations visited upon us, good people stood by silently and let it happen. We are here today to say: we will not let this happen again. And over the centuries we have learned, painfully, a crucial paradox: anti-Semitism was unique, even while a fundamental truth of the ages is that religious tolerance and freedom is indivisible. It is for these reasons that the organized Jewish community has responded so strongly on the issue of religious persecution, wherever it may occur. And few spiritual or religious peoples in the world today face the degree or depth of persecution as do the members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in China. Indeed, there is no place for me to be this afternoon, save here.
This is particularly true here in this land of freedom and refuge. America was the first to enshrine the universal ideal of religious freedom and liberty. Based in part on the Jewish Bible’s vision of humanity as created in the image of God, endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights -- from this nation radiated the view of universal human rights and the guarantee of legal protections for all who wished to exercise those fundamental rights. The American people have a particular responsibility to speak out whenever others face religious intolerance and persecution.
Today, China’s already harsh campaign to decimate and discredit the Falun Gong spiritual group continues unabated, with ongoing reports of torture, rape, detentions, disappearances and killings.
When over 100,000 Falun Gong practitioners have reportedly been illegally arrested and detained, America must speak out;
When more than 500 have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years, America must speak out;
When more than 1,000 have been forced into mental hospitals, an act condemned by World Psychiatric Association, America must speak out;
When over 20,000 have been illegally sent to labor camps without trials, America must speak out; and
When scores, if not many hundreds, have died in prison as a result of brutal treatment, America must speak out.
The brutal tactics used by the Chinese government to eradicate Falun Gong are all too familiar to the Jewish people. Thankfully, the spirit of the Falun Gong, like the Jewish spirit, persists. Despite widespread arrests and harassment of members, with thousands shipped to “reeducation through labor” camps, large numbers of people in China have continued practicing Falun Gong.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has called for the American government to engage more actively the issue of religious persecution in China and to document, respond to, and do whatever possible to deter persecution. This call began when I served on the Commission and has continued since I left. It did so believing that when human beings are harassed, imprisoned, even tortured for engaging in the free exercise of religion, America must speak out.
So long as spiritual or religious groups - Catholics, Protestants, Falun Dafa, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims - so long as any lack fundamental freedoms, we as Americans must speak out. And so long as even one Falun Gong practitioner faces persecution, as they do each and every day, we as Americans will continue to speak out. We do so today, committed to the hope and vision that as a result of the efforts of people of conscience across the globe, like those gathered here, someday soon, no person in China shall face such injustice and all will be able to follow the dictates of their conscience in living out their spiritual and religious lives in freedom, safety, and peace.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .