Majority Leader Eric Cantor Brought Key Religious Freedom Measure to a Floor Vote
WASHINGTON—The U.S. House of Representatives Dec. 13 adopted a landmark religious freedom measure, H.Res.306, calling upon Turkey to return the Christian church properties it stole through genocide, and to end its repression of the surviving members of the vast Christian civilizations that once represented a majority in the territory of the present-day Republic of Turkey, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The measure, spearheaded by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) was scheduled for House consideration by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, with the support of Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ranking Member Berman, of the Foreign Affairs Committee. House Members speaking in support of the measure included Reps. Royce, Berman, Congressional Armenian Genocide Resolution lead co-sponsor Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Congressional Armenian Caucus co-chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).
Congressional Turkey Caucus co-chair Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) was alone in speaking out against the resolution. The measure was adopted by voice vote.
“Despite Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent claims of progress on religious freedom, Turkey’s Christian communities continue to face severe discrimination,” explained Royce. “Today, the U.S. House of Representatives considered and adopted my legislation, which calls upon the government of Turkey to end religious discrimination, allow religious prayer and education, and return stolen church property. The United States has a strong interest in promoting religious freedom abroad.”
Berman concurred, noting, “This important resolution calls attention to Turkey’s disturbing, persistent failure to respect the ancient Christian heritage of Anatolia and to treat its Christian
communities as free and equal citizens. Turkey should take immediate steps to restore all confiscated church property and allow full freedom of worship and religious education for all Christian communities.”
In July, Royce and Berman were joined by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in spearheading House Foreign Affairs Committee consideration of the “Return of Churches” amendment to the State Department Authorization Bill. Their amendment was overwhelmingly adopted by a vote of 43 to 1.
“The passage of House Resolution 306 is a great victory for religious freedom around the world, and is a turning point in the Armenian people’s fight for religious freedom. Respect for the full exercise of our civil rights is really central to who we are as Americans and central to the values and ideals that we promote all over the world. My home state of Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams on the principles of religious liberty and freedom and I am proud to co-sponsor the Resolution in that spirit,” said Congressman David Cicilline.
The text of H.Res.306 adopted today is the same as the abridged version adopted at the committee level.
“Today’s vote, over opposition from Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and, sadly, even our own American president’s administration, represents a powerful victory for religious freedom, and also reflects the growing American and international consensus that Turkey must—starting with the return of thousands of stolen Christian churches properties and holy sites—accept its responsibilities for the full moral and material implications of a truthful and just resolution of the Armenian Genocide,” said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian.
Armenian Americans across the U.S. were joined by religious freedom advocates and their counterparts in the Greek, Assyrian, and Syriac communities in making thousands of phone calls to their Representatives in support of H.Res.306, following action alerts issued by the Armenian National Committee of America, American Hellenic Institute, and American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association and the American Hellenic Council.
With hours left to the scheduled vote on H.Res.306, Turkish American groups mounted a campaign to block the measure but were ultimately unsuccessful.
The ANCA will be posting full video coverage of U.S. consideration of H.Res.306 on its website at http://www.anca.org/return.
Text of H.Res.306
Urging the Republic of Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage and to return confiscated church properties.
Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the Secretary of State, in all official contacts with Turkish leaders and other Turkish officials, should emphasize that Turkey should –
(1) end all forms of religious discrimination;
(2) allow the rightful church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to organize and administer prayer services, religious education, clerical training, appointments, and succession, religious community gatherings, social services, including ministry to the needs of the poor and infirm, and other religious activities;
(3) return to their rightful owners all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties, including movable properties, such as artwork, manuscripts, vestments, vessels, and other artifacts; and
(4) allow the rightful Christian church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to preserve, reconstruct, and repair, as they see fit, all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties within Turkey.