Menendez Provision to Protect Religious Rights of Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey Advances in the House. Nita Lowey pushes the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament
Washington, D.C. Greek News
The House International Relations Committee on Thursday passed a bill provision authored by U.S. Representative Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to protect the religious and human rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey. The provision was included in a State Department bill, which now goes to the full House of Representatives.
Menendez made the following statement on the passage of his bill provision:
“Mr. Chairman, those who support religious freedom around the world have raised their voices to support the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, Turkey. During the Helsinki Commission’s briefing on the Ecumenical Patriarch this past March, individuals from many faiths testified against the egregious abuses of the Turkish government against the Ecumenical Patriarch, including Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation; Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Catholic Archbishop of Washington; Dr. Anthony Limberakis, National Commander of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle; and Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. If we are to truly support religious freedoms, we must not be silent now.
“The European Union is scheduled to begin accession negotiations with Turkey this October. I am deeply concerned by this because of Turkey’s discriminatory actions towards religious minorities in Turkey such as the Greek Orthodox. The elimination of discrimination of any type must be an essential part of any country’s accession negotiations.
“Mr. Chairman, this amendment addresses the treatment and conditions under which the Ecumenical Patriarchate has suffered, and continues to suffer, at the hands of the Turkish government. The Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians in the United States and throughout the world. Yet the Turkish Government continues to violate the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s religious rights and freedoms. Clearly, Turkey has much more to do to eliminate religious discrimination.
“The Government of Turkey:
Refuses to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarch’s international status and its significance to Orthodox Christians the world over;
Allows only Turkish nationals to be candidates available to the Holy Synod for selection as the Ecumenical Patriarch;
Refuses to reopen the Theological School at Halki, the only Greek Orthodox theological institute in Turkey, which impedes training for the clergy;
Has confiscated 75% of Ecumenical Patriarchal properties since 2002; and
Has levied a 42% retroactive tax on the Balukli Hospital, a philanthropic institution run by the Ecumenical Patriarchate which treats 30,000-40,000 patients a year.
“That is why I have offered this amendment which will help protect the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
“My amendment states that Turkey must immediately eliminate all forms of discrimination, particularly those based on race or religion. It also calls on Turkey to pledge to maintain and protect religious and human rights without compromise.
“Specifically, this amendment calls on Turkey to:
Grant the Ecumenical Patriarch appropriate international recognition and ecclesiastic succession;
Grant the Ecumenical Patriarchate the right to train clergy of all nationalities, not just Turkish nationals; and
Respect the property rights and human rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
“In the United States, as well as in Europe, freedom of religion is a right granted to each regardless of his or her affiliation. There is no reason why it should not be the same in Turkey. No one, at any time or in any place, should be discriminated against for his or her religious beliefs.”
Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) Thursday pushed the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament to return property that had been confiscated from the Orthodox Church and allow the reopening of the Theological School at Halki. Lowey pressed for these actions during a congressional delegation trip to Turkey and the Middle East.
“The Ecumenical Patriarchate has endured the abuse of the Turkish Government long enough,” said Lowey. “It is long past time for Turkey to return Patriarchal properties and reopen the Theological School at Halki. As Turkey prepares for accession negotiations with the European Union, I hope it will demonstrate its commitment to human rights and civil liberties by ending discrimination against the Patriarchate.”
In recent years, the Turkish government has confiscated 75 percent of the 1,747 properties belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, Turkey, including an orphanage the Church has held since 1902. The government has also limited to Turkish nationals the candidates available to the Holy Synod for selection as the Ecumenical Patriarch, and has indefinitely closed the Theological School at Halki, preventing the training of Orthodox Christian clergy in Turkey.
In a meeting in Istanbul Thursday with Speaker Bulent Arinc, Lowey expressed her outrage at the actions of the Turkish government. She asked that the Patriarchal property be immediately restored and the Halki School reopened. While Speaker Arinc stated that he believed it would be useful to reopen the institutions, given recent court decisions denying the Ecumenical Patriarchate status as a legal entity, a legal solution needed to be found.
Lowey pledged to push the issue further with Turkish authorities and to urge U.S. officials to pursue a solution through diplomatic channels.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for the Turkish government to curtail the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. These actions are a blow to religious liberty and an affront to democratic principles,” said Lowey. “I will continue to push for a reversal of these misguided decisions and for the return of property and religious freedom to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
Congresswoman Lowey is a co-sponsor of H.Res. 166, which urges Turkey to respect the rights and freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarch. She has long worked with lay leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, including the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to end discrimination against the Patriarchate.