Delivered remarks are available through the embedded video
CHAIRMAN ED ROYCE
Persecution of Christians in the Middle East
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Wednesday, December 6, 2017; 6:00 PM;
It is an honor to be with you tonight to discuss the troubling increase in persecution of Christians around the world, including in the Middle East.
The Middle East was the birthplace of Christianity and has been home to millions of believers for generations.
[General Persecution of Christians in Middle East Today]
Unfortunately there is a rising wave of persecution of Christians in the region, and the Christian population in these nations has dramatically shrunk as a result.
Christians are being assaulted, expelled from their homes, detained, tortured, raped, and murdered for their faith.
As Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has said, “What we are witnessing is the uprooting not only of a religious minority, but of an entire civilization. It must be characterized as nothing less than a genocide.”
The violence is beginning to mirror a level of persecution that first appeared on the world stage in the Roman Coliseum.
As Pope Francis recently said, “When we read the history of the first centuries, we read of so much cruelty toward Christians. I tell you: there is the same cruelty today, and to a greater extent.”
We have witnessed that cruelty by the hands of ISIS fighters, who over the past few years have conducted a targeted campaign of genocide against Christian believers.
These terrorists have even coerced children to carry out their atrocities, in a twisted attempt to corrupt future generations with their warped ideology.
I held a hearing on the dire situation confronting Christians in Iraq and Syria, and Sister Momeka of Mosul, Iraq testified that ISIS’ brutality was “cultural and human genocide” and observed that “[the only Christians that remain in the Plain of Ninevah are those who are held as hostages.
I am cautiously hopeful that this situation is turning towards the better as Christians begin to return to Ninevah province, but the battle wages on against ISIS and its continued violence.
In the face of such atrocity, we must speak out and we must act.
I have worked with my colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle to do just that.
Last March, I authored and pushed unanimous passage House Concurrent Resolution 75, that declared the actions of ISIS against Christians and Yazidis to be genocide and urging the U.S. administration to call it what it is.
Our government subsequently did.
I visited Christian churches and congregations in northern Iraq working to ensure humanitarian access and aid to those in the greatest need.
Last month, I worked with Congressman Glenn Grothman to pass unanimously through Committee H.Res 407, a resolution that addressed the disturbing trend of increasing persecution against Christians around the globe, and called on the United States to promote religious freedom for Christians and to press all nations around the world to stop persecution of Christians at all national, local and community levels.
[Protection of Religious Sites and Properties from Destruction]
Part of many genocidal campaigns is the depraved purge of cultural and religious sites from the land.
At the hands of ISIS, centuries-old churches have been burned, bombed and demolished, religious artifacts have been looted and sold on the black market and other icons and sacred objects have been destroyed.
I worked with the Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Eliot Engel, to author House Resolution 1493, the Protect and Preserve Cultural Property Act, that prevents the sale or importation into the United States of Syrian religious artifacts removed after the beginning of the civil war. The bill was signed into law last year.
[Turkish Oppression of the Ecumenical Patriarchate]
Last week, we marked the Feast Day of Apostle St. Andrew, who in the 1st century A.D., courageously and freely shared his religious beliefs, leading thousands in the faith and establishing the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Byzantium, Istanbul in modern day Turkey.
It is a tragedy that today’s inheritors of his great legacy are so thoroughly constrained in the practice of their beliefs.
The Turkish government has placed many regulations that prevent the free election of their religious leader.
Orthodox churches and properties have been confiscated and vandalized, left to ruin, or converted into mosques, museums and even casinos.
Religious icons have been destroyed or sold on the black market.
The lack of official legal status has meant that the church cannot raise and manage funds to maintain its properties and operations, and its priests who cannot obtain legal residency must rely on tourist visas, which must be frequently renewed, in order to serve the church in Turkey.
For years, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has also been unable to even train its own clergy in Turkey, as the only Orthodox Seminary in the country located on Halki [ pronounced “Hall-Key”] has remained closed for over forty years.
These oppressive tactics impede the religious freedom for Orthodox believers within Turkey, as well as 300 million Orthodox believers around the world.
There must be a change, and it must be now.
I have met with the Ecumenical Patriarch, and there is no one more willing to engage with Turkish leaders and the community to promote peace, tolerance and inter-faith dialogue.
Yet he needs our help.
At every opportunity I have pressed Turkish leaders to lift these onerous restrictions and restore religious liberty to Orthodox believers.
I have passed legislation through my committee to protect religious sites within Turkey and call for the return of all confiscated properties to their rightful owners.
In October, Ranking Member Engel and I wrote to Secretary Tillerson and asked him to use all his diplomatic leverage to press Turkish leaders to abandon plans to convert the Hagia Sophia [pronounced “Hah- Gee- Ah So-Fee-Ah”] in Istanbul into an operational mosque.
With these and other actions I hope we can push Turkish leaders to enact real reforms and restore full religious liberty to the Orthodox faithful there and around the world.
As Saint Andrew said, “Love is acceptance.”
Let that be a guiding principle for us as we redouble our efforts to end religious persecution in all its overt and subtle forms, and as we honor the legacy of those first church leaders by promoting freedom of religion for all oppressed people around the world.