The following speeches and addresses were delivered from speakers in the 1st Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom which was held in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium in November 2010.

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Welcoming Remarks of Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis

National Commander
Order Of Saint Andrew The Apostle
Archons Of The Ecumenical Patriarchate In America

WELCOMING REMARKS / EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
NOVEMBER 16, 2010

Venerable Hierarchs, Your Excellency Egemen Bagis, Distinguished Members of Parliament, Respected Scholars and Guests, brother Archons, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me first to express our deep appreciation to Her Excellency Rodi Kratsa Tsagaropoulou, Vice President of the European Parliament for hosting this conference here at the European Parliament.  We are most grateful Madame Vice President.

On behalf of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Europe and in America, and my colleague Archon Sassayiannis, welcome to this historic International Archon Religious Freedom Conference, Religious Freedom: Turkey's Bridge to the European Union.  Here in Brussels, the capital of Europe and in the hallowed halls of the European Parliament, it is most appropriate that we gather from around the world to examine the status of religious freedom in Turkey since religious freedom is of extraordinary importance not only to the EU, but to all peoples of the earth.  The Copenhagen Criteria, a cornerstone of the founding documents of the EU require all 27 EU member and the three candidate states to guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, respect for and protection of minorities…

As you review the agenda of this two-day Conference, you will be impressed by the diversity of the presenters, the poignancy of the specific topics and the outstanding credentials of the speakers.  You will witness the concerns of the religious minorities of Turkey documented firsthand from Turkish citizens.  You will appreciate the analysis of these concerns from religious leaders, humanitarian scholars, legal academics, political and governmental leaders, journalists and the Chief Negotiator for the Republic of Turkey to the EU, His Excellency Egemen Bagis.  In turn, on Day II of the Conference, many of these individuals will propose solutions and policy initiatives to ameliorate the concerns of these religious minority members.

The Pew Foundation, one of the world's leading charitable think tanks published a comprehensive study on religious freedom in the world in December 2009.  Data for this study were gathered from 16 governmental and non-governmental organizations, including the United Nations, the United States State Department and Human Rights Watch, representing over 99.5 percent of the world's population.  According to the results, nearly 70 percent of the world's population lives in countries with heavy restrictions on freedom of religion.

Religious freedom, which so many of us take for granted as an unalienable right bestowed upon us by our Creator, is experienced in reality only by a small minority of the world's population.  Yet religious freedom is enshrined in the Torah, the Great Gospels and Epistles and the Qur'an.  In Exodus of the Old Testament, God told Moses at the Burning Bush to tell Pharaoh to "Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert;" so that they may have the religious freedom to worship as they choose.  In another context, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ stated, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:31-32.  In the Qur'an, there are repeated references to the individual's right to chose how to worship, for example in Sura 2 verse 256 "There is no compulsion in religion, for the right way is clearly from the wrong way."

One final thought that requires a humble request for forgiveness on an oversight of the Planning Committee in scheduling this conference during the Islamic Festival of Sacrifice.  This was completely inadvertent and we ask you for your understanding and we sincerely apologize for this oversight.

My friends, you are about to embark on a two-day intellectual journey that has been in the making for over a year, by our committee and its outstanding chairman, Archon George C. Rockas.  There will be frank discussion, honest testimony and sage recommendations which St. Paul apply describes as "Speaking the Truth in Love," that will address the concerns of the religious minority in Turkey and provide that great nation with a Bridge to the European Union.