International Religious Liberty Association Convenes Largest-ever World Congress

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In the Dominican Republic, almost 900 government officials, religious leaders, scholars, and religious liberty advocates are shining a spotlight on global religious persecution.

Almost 900 delegates from more than 60 countries gathered today for the inaugural session of the 7th World Congress for Religious Freedom in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Almost 900 delegates from more than 60 countries gathered today for the inaugural session of the 7th World Congress for Religious Freedom in Dominican Republic.

We're here today because we believe that freedom of religion is basic to all human rights

Delegates from more than 60 countries gathered today for the inaugural session of the 7th World Congress for Religious Freedom. Keynote speaker Dr Denton Lotz, former leader of Baptist World Alliance and current president of the International Religious Liberty Association, summarized the purpose of this three-day event: "We're here because we believe that freedom of religion is basic to all human rights."

"It's incumbent upon us to work together for harmony and accord--we don't need religious wars," Lotz said to the audience which included leaders from a range of faiths, including Seventh-day Adventists, Mennonintes, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Mormons and Scientologists, Muslim, Jewish and other faith groups.

This theme was echoed in a statement read to delegates from Dominican Republic President, Leonel Fernandez Reyna, who offered "a most cordial welcome to the Dominican Republic, a land of freedom.”

“The Dominican Republic is a place of freedom for Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of other faiths," he said.

Later, Ambassador Robert Seiple, former United States Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, spoke passionately about the “complicity of the religious establishment in advancing secularism” and he argued that strong faith is still compatible with respect for the religious beliefs of others.

Attendees also took time to remember the millions of men, women and children around the world who live in countries that restrict religious freedom or which engage in persecution of religious minorities. A video presentation highlighted the death sentences pronounced -- but not yet carried out -- on Christians in Pakistan and Iran on charges of "blasphemy," and the assassinations of Pakistani officials Salman Tasser, governor of Punjab province and minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti. Also cited was the extreme religious repression found in North Korea.

While the main Congress theme, "Secularism and Religious Freedom -- Conflict or Partnership" may seem far removed from lands where persecution is active, keynote speaker Dr Lotz took a different view. "Most people worldwide suffer from a lack of religious freedom. Seventy percent of the world lives in places of religious repression," he said.

The three-day event is organized and sponsored by the International Religious Liberty Association—a non-sectarian organization, chartered in 1893, dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of religion for people of all faiths. Daily news, video and photos are available at http://www.irla.org.

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Bettina Krause

(Español) Silvestre Gonzàlez
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