'Critical' for Nations to Reaffirm Religious Freedom, U.S. Congressman Franks Says
At annual religious liberty dinner, Kulakov , Wilkins, Brownstein and Keith honored
BY ANSEL OLIVER, Assistant Director for News, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, reporting from Washington, D.C.
nternational standards of religious freedom must be reinforced, a U.S. legislator said June 12 in a speech marking 10 years since the United States passed the International Religious Freedom Act, a bill recognizing the importance of freedom of belief in foreign policy.
"It's critical that other nations join with us in reaffirming this foundational human right and stand for the freedom of all people to choose their religious beliefs," said Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican and co-chair of the Congressional Religious Freedom Taskforce.
Speaking to religious freedom proponents, Franks affirmed congressional staffers, foreign ambassadors and members of the North American Religious Liberty Association, calling their work "absolutely critical" at a time when more than one half of the world's population lives in countries without "true religious freedom."
GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]
RUSSIAN PIONEER: Mikhail P. Kulakov Sr., who labored in the gulag and was exiled for his faith, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the North American Religious Liberty Association, which organizes the dinner to promote religious freedom and honor its champions.
"I am convinced that we have to protect religious freedom here at home so that we can project it across the planet," Franks said. His remarks were part of his keynote address to the sixth annual Religious Liberty Dinner, held this year in the Presidential Ballroom at the Capital Hilton Hotel a few blocks from the White House.
The International Religious Liberty Association, the North American Religious Liberty Association and Liberty Magazine -- three religious freedom organizations founded by the Seventh-day Adventist Church -- sponsor the event. Attendees met with 77 members of congress or their staff on Capitol Hill earlier in the day to lobby for the passage of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which was introduced in 1996 by Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., keynote speaker for last year's dinner. Other previous keynote speakers at the event promoting religious freedom include Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. McCain is the presumptive 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
"The most significant thing is we're coming together, the NGO community, the diplomatic community and the world of faith community, to focus on religious freedom in a way that's seldom done in this city and in this world," said James Standish, Esq., director of Legislative Affairs for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
"You might think this is just a dinner, but we've had serious tangible effects from this event throughout the years," Standish said. "We've met with ambassadors from nations that have excluded Adventists and have had some very concrete and productive conversations. The ambassador from one nation has promised to work with us in a country where we've not been able to work for over three decades. If we can get back in, that's an amazing accomplishment."
During the dinner, which drew some 160 NARLA members from across the United States, along with guests from Congress, foreign embassies and other faith communities, several individuals were honored for their commitment to religious liberty.
Mikhail P. Kulakov Sr., director of the Bible Translation Institute at Zaoksky Adventist University in Zaoksky, Tula Region, Russia, received the association's Lifetime Achievement Award. Born in 1927 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Kulakov was arrested for his faith and sentenced to hard labor in the gulag and later exiled in Khazakstan. In 1953 he began an underground journal for ministers and established unofficial courses for the training of ministers. In 1992, he founded the Russian chapter of the International Religious Liberty Association.
GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]
VETERAN WORKER: NARLA board member Dorothy G. Keith was awarded for her nearly 30 years of religious liberty work.
Kulakov's father and brother were also arrested for their faith and sent to labor camps, he said, "for one reason -- we had a burden on our heart, our desire to share with others the beauty of Jesus and his love and importance to live by faith in this world."
"These are men and women of character and substance," Standish later said of Kulakov and others honored at the event, including Carl Wilkens, the former head of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International in Rwanda. As the only American aid worker stationed in Rwanda who stayed behind during the 1994 genocide, Wilkens is credited for saving hundreds of lives in Kigali.
"In my judgment, religious liberty and equality have no greater champions today than the Seventh-day Adventist community," said Alan E. Brownstein, Esq., who teaches constitutional law, law and religion and torts at the University of California, Davis School of Law. The association awarded Brownstein for his Constitutional scholarship relating to church-state issues and Free Exercise and Establishment Clause doctrine.
"I don't know any other organization in my home state of California that's been as effective in bringing religious communities together to work for religious liberty for everyone than the Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council," Brownstein added.
Dorothy G. Keith, a board member of NARLA-West, was awarded the association's A.T. Jones Medal for her nearly 30 years of work for the Adventist Church and promotion of religious freedom. Keith served as a missionary in Sierra Leone for nine years, and in South Korea for three years.
Information on the North American Religious Liberty Association can be found online at www.narla.org.


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