To: House Judiciary Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: SCR 4014 - Religious and Legal Rights for Ecumenical Patriarch
Date: March 21, 2011

The North Dakota Catholic Conference strongly supports Senate Concurrent Resolution 4014. This resolution, like those adopted in thirty-three other states, calls for the government of Turkey to recognize the legal and religious rights of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople.

At the outset, we note that this resolution should not be seen as diminishing the plight of others around the world whose religious liberties are denied. Nor does it diminish the rights of other persecuted religious minorities in Turkey, such as Syriac and Armenian Christians. The situation concerning the Ecumenical Patriarchate, however, is unique because of its international and local implications.

The Patriarch is considered the first among equals among the patriarchs of the Orthodox Church. He is the spiritual leader of millions of Orthodox Christians around the world, including those here in North Dakota. The Turkish government, however, has suppressed the Patriarch’s legal and human rights. These actions include the closing of seminaries, the confiscation of property, and restricting who can succeed him. The 2010 report of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that “serious limitations on the freedom of religion or belief continue to occur in Turkey,” particularly with regards to the Ecumenical Patriarch, and called for direct and multilateral efforts to pressure Turkey recognize the patriarch’s legal and religious rights.

Turkey is seeking entry into the European Union, an action that the United States supports as being in our country’s economic interests and which could open new economic opportunities for North Dakota products. The European Union, however, is insisting that Turkey make progress in respecting religious
liberties, especially concerning the Ecumenical Patriarch, if it wants full membership into the union. The resolution will give encouragement and support to the President and Congress to implement the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which could help pave the way for Turkey’s inclusion in the European Union and better economic and political ties between Turkey and states like North Dakota.

Ultimately, however, the reasons for this resolution are not economic. It is because we stand in solidarity with our Orthodox brothers and sisters in North Dakota. The rights of their spiritual leader, and indeed, the very existence of that spiritual leadership is at stake and they do not suffer alone

That is why Bishop William Rindy, of the ELCA of Eastern North Dakota, Bishop Mark Narum, of the ELCA of Western North Dakota, Bishop Paul A. Zipfel of Roman Catholic Diocese of Bismarck and Bishop Samuel Aquila of Roman Catholic Diocese of Fargo have joined to urge passage of this resolution.

We hope you will agree and give a Do Pass recommendation to SCR 4014.