Remarks by President to Religious Leaders

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 18, 1998


The Roosevelt Room

3:08 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary, tothe members of Congress who are here and the religious leaders,especially to Rabbi Schneier, Archbishop McCarrick, Reverend Argue.I thank all of you for your devotion to religious liberty and to theproposition that America's advocacy of freedom should, indeed must,include our advocacy of religious liberty.

I'd like to say a special word of thanks to JohnShattuck, our Assistant Secretary of State, who has worked so hard topromote human rights around the world, and whom I hope will soon bemoving on to other important responsibilities for the United States.John, thank you very, very much for doing a great job. (Applause.)Sandy Berger and Madeleine and I rely on you a lot and we hope you'llhave another good run soon.

I'd also like to say a special word of appreciation toReverend Argue, Archbishop McCarrick and Rabbi Schneier for leading adelegation to China on a mission that grew out of my meeting withPresident Jiang last fall. In their discussions with Chinesegovernment leaders and religious groups of all kinds, they were ourforceful advocates for religious liberty. Their visit helped to makethe Chinese people aware of the fundamental importance of this issue,not simply to the American government, but to the American people.

We have just met to discuss their trip and I havereceived from them a very impressive report of their activities,replete with their specific recommendations about where we go fromhere. And their insights will certainly have a big influence on myactivities and conversations as I prepare to embark for China.

I also want to thank all the religious leaders who havejoined us here today who have been part of our advisory process. Wewelcome the recent release from prison of two key Chinese religiousleaders -- Gao Feng and Bishop Zeng Jingmu, as well as China'sannouncement that it intends to sign the International Covenant onCivil and Political Rights, with its guarantees of freedom of thoughtand religion. But Chinese Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists remainimprisoned for their religious activities, including in Tibet, andother believers face harassment.

Therefore, when in China, I will speak as clearly as Ican about human rights and religious freedom. Our message is clear:we in the United States believe that all governments everywhereshould ensure fundamental rights, including the right of people toworship when and where they choose. We believe that China shouldresume talks with the Dalai Lama. We believe that prisoners ofconscience should be released.

I am convinced that dealing directly with the Chinese onthese issues is the best way to make a difference, and making adifference is in the end what matters. I am also convinced, as Itold President Jiang here both privately and in our press conference,that China will be more stable, will grow stronger, will acquire moreinfluence in the world in direct proportion to the extent to which itrecognizes liberties of all kinds and especially religious liberty.(Applause.)

Of course, we all know that the freedom to follow one'spersonal beliefs, to worship as one chooses, is at the core of whatit means to be an American. It is in the very first amendment to theConstitution. It is at the forefront of the Bill of Rights. Men andwomen fleeing religious persecutions helped to found our country.They still arrive every year, of every conceivable faith, from everypoint in the world, to seek this freedom.

Our churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and otherhouses of worship are centers of vibrant community life and vitalcommunity service. We have always been vigilant in protecting ourown religious freedoms, for we know that an attack on any groupimperils all. Dr. Martin Luther King once said that "injusticeanywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." It clearly applies tothe principle of religious liberty.

And we know now that if we want the kind of world forour children that we are laboring so hard to build for the 21stcentury -- for this one in particular -- (laughter) -- Exhibit A --(laughter) -- our struggle for liberty cannot end at our borders.There are many countries, far too many, where religious believersstill suffer in darkness, where governments ban religious practicesor force an officially sanctioned creed on non-believers; people areharassed, imprisoned, tortured, sometimes even executed for daring tolive by their beliefs.

On the other hand, we know that when religious diversityis respected, it fosters a sense of community and solidarity.Religious hatred fuels violence, as we have seen too often. So wepromote both religious freedom and religious tolerance. They are twosides of the same coin, each necessary for the other's success.

Secretary Albright and I, as she said so eloquently,have made promotion of religious freedom around the world a toppriority. I have had extensive discussions on the subject withPresident Yeltsin, as all of you know, and with other world leaders.State Department officials here and overseas now give greaterattention to religious persecution and other religious liberty issuesthan ever before. We have a high-level advisory committee on whichmany of you serve, and I thank you for the work you have done.

Now Secretary Albright is creating a new position, aSenior Advisor for International Religious Freedom, to make sure thatreligious liberty concerns get high and close attention in ourforeign policy. And I am pleased to announce the appointment todayof the gentleman to my right, Dr. Robert Seiple, to the job. AsPresident of World Vision United States, he has applied skill anddetermination to World Vision's faith-based struggle against povertyin more than 100 countries. To this position he brings a genuinelyunusual combination of deep personal faith, sweeping globalperspective, the toughness and determination of a Marine Vietnamveteran, and an extraordinary proven capacity for leadership. He ishere with his family and in a moment I want to ask him to say a fewwords. But we thank you for your willingness to serve. (Applause.)

Let me just say one word about how we should continue topursue this cause. I have been deeply touched that as the presenceof these members of Congress shows, there is a universaldetermination I think in our country among all our decisionmakers toadvance the cause of religious liberty. It crosses party, it crossesregion, it crosses philosophy, it crosses different religious faiths.There is some difference of opinion about how we can best proceed.

My belief is that we have to be both principled andresourceful. We need to be doing what works. We need to bededicated to achieving results. And therefore I hope that Congresswill not only express its strong support and give us the tools to dothe job, but leave us as much flexibility as possible to advance thecause of religious freedom consistent with what can be done and howit can best be done nation by nation. America is not strengthened infighting for religious liberty or in fighting against religiouspersecution by laws that are so rigid a President's hands are tied.

As we intensify our efforts to promote religiousliberty, I know we can count on the support of people of faith allover this country.

Abraham Lincoln, whose determination to defend ourliberty cost him his life, once said, "The fight must go on. Thecause of liberty must not be surrendered at the end of one, or even100, defeats." Many of you in this room have been part of thosedefeats. But at the end of all of them there lies ultimate victory.That is what we must believe, that is the reality we must create.

Again, let me thank you all and now ask Dr. Seiple tocome forward to make a few remarks. Thank you very much.(Applause.)

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Roundtable Discussion in Shanghai, China.

MIT Commencement Address

Commencement Address to MIT Graduates

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