WASHINGTON October 9, 1998—Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today issued the following statement in response to the Senate passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (S. 1868):
Today's Senate action, approving the International Religious Freedom Act by an overwhelming bi-partisan majority, sends a powerful message that the United States is serious about combating religious persecution abroad. We commend members of the Senate who brought this crucial legislation to the forefront as a fundamental human rights issue.
Although this bill is not a solution to all violations of religious liberty around the world, it is a meaningful step in the right direction. It recognizes the most blatant forms of religious persecution and aims to improve the situation of millions who suffer merely because of their faith. This legislation is necessary, welcome, and in fact, overdue.
The Jewish community, the quintessential victims of persecution through the generations, has a special obligation not only to speak out against the persecution of other religious groups around the world, but also to take affirmative steps to prevent such persecution in the future. We cannot turn our back against innocent people whose sole "crime" is the expression of their deepest religious beliefs. Just as other communities helped us rescue hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews in the 1980's, so, too, must we act to ensure that all religious groups around the world have the right to practice their faith.
We look forward to working with the bi-partisan coalition which supported this legislation to fashion an acceptable bill in reconciling the differences between the Senate bill and the House version.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.