Senator Kerry Backs Religious Freedom at IRLA Dinner

: LET FREEDOM RING: Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Massachusetts, shown at the May 17 dinner sponsored by the International Religious Liberty Association, addressed the need for freedom of worship in his remarks.Source: Adventist News Network

[July 9, 2007] On a night dedicated to recognizing and upholding religious freedom for all, keynote speaker and United States Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts rallied behind a bill designed to protect the rights of people of faith, including Sabbath-keepers, in the workplace. Kerry spoke to a room of 200 guests at the fifth annual religious liberty dinner staged in the historic Caucus Room located in the Russell Senate office building on Thursday, May 17.

"We all uphold the right to practice what we believe as a matter of religious freedom. The ability to be able to do that is a crucial part of our national identity; [it] is what we hold up to other nations and it's what we take great pride in," Kerry told the gathering.

"If this bill goes through," Kerry said, "it will be a major success for religious liberty. I think it's a hallmark of where we are as a nation--in codifying people's ability to truly and freely practice their religions."

Three religious freedom outreaches sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church organized the dinner: Liberty Magazine, the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), and the North American Religious Liberty Association (NARLA). Faith leaders from Catholic, Jewish and Protestant groups, foreign diplomats, representatives from various U.S. government departments, Adventist religious liberty activists and Adventist church leaders from around the world attended the dinner.

Senator Kerry praised the efforts of the coalition of different religions and philosophies represented in the Caucus Room. He received enthusiastic applause when he said, "That is why I support so passionately the Workplace Religious Freedom Act and have done since I introduced it in 1996. It is time for us to get [it] through the United States Congress."

"This effort is now supported by Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh and other faith organizations and writing this into law is a bit of a balancing act. That balance can be found and should be found," the 2004 Democratic party presidential candidate continued.

The annual dinner has attracted a wide range of prominent keynote speakers, including two current presidential candidates: Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, in 2006 and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., in 2005. Previous speakers at the event included Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.

Senator Kerry also took the opportunity to link his concerns about the environment with the evening's religious freedom theme. "Every faith shares a commonality, a universality of principle. All share a fundamental respect for the earth itself, of creation and what it is." He then quoted 1 Corinthians 10:26 to remind his audience that 'The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.'

"Yes, we have dominion of it," Kerry added, "but dominion assumes responsibility. Our capacity to think gives us a greater capacity ...to make choices. God gave us responsibility to make those choices wisely and with love for our fellow human beings."

He moved on to address man's moral obligation in environmental matters, regardless of party affiliation. "It's not left or right, liberal or conservative. It's just plain common sense and it's certainly in keeping with any responsible interpretation of ...the scriptures, the Torah, [or] the Koran. [We must] do a better job of meeting our responsibilities to protect creation itself."

Following Senator Kerry's address, five champions of religious liberty received awards. Sonja Dewitt, an investigator who works at the Cambridge Human Rights Commission, an anti-discrimination agency won the A. T. Jones medal recognizing her mediatory work in cases of housing discrimination, public accommodation and employment.

Other award recipients included: Mitchell A Tyner, who recently retired from the General Counsel of the IRLA; Fred M. Blum, a partner at Bassi, Martini, Edlin & Blum, LLP; and Lavern H. Opp, a government relations representative of the Northwest Religious Liberty Association.

The Seventh-day Adventist church organized the International Religious Liberty Association in 1893. A little more than 50 years later, in 1946, the IRLA became a non-sectarian organization and counts among its board members representatives of many different faith communities. Information on the IRLA can be found at www.irla.org.