SANTA ANA, Calif. While the crowded GOP field for U.S. president wrangles over major national issues such as the economy, taxes and traditional values that are important to Christian conservatives, an Orange County ministry is hoping to expand the topics to include religious freedom.
In addition to the Republicans, Open Doors USA is also planning to target Democrats, Libertarians and Independents with its 2012 Presidential Pledge for Religious Freedom.
The document encourages every presidential candidate to advocate for persecuted Christians and people of all faiths worldwide, including those living in America. The document, unveiled in late November, was produced in partnership with professor Tom Farr of Georgetown University, an international Religious Freedom expert.
"Religious freedom is in global crisis," Farr said. "In the United States, religious associations are at risk of being forced either to abandon their core beliefsfor example, on the sanctity of human lifeor cease operation. Internationally, 70 percent of the world's population lives in countries in which religious freedom is severely restricted.
"Tens of millions of human beings are subject to violent persecution because of their beliefs or those of their tormentors. Whoever wins the presidency in 2012 should make religious freedom, at home and abroad, a high priority."
In recent years, numerous Catholic hospitals have either closed or dropped their religious affiliation because of laws forcing them to perform abortions. Also, numerous faith-based adoption or foster care ministries have closed because of laws forcing them to accept gay couples.
"Religious freedom is foundational to American society and a key indicator of prosperity in most societies worldwide," said Lindsay Vessey, advocacy director for Open Doors USA.
As a result, Open Doors is also soliciting signatures from the public, showing their support of the presidential pledge. Open Doors officials said they will approach candidates, informing them how many Americans have signed the petition.
"Candidates need to hear from American voters that this is an important issue," Vessey said. "We're asking all freedom-loving Americans to sign the petition. This petition indicates that you would like your presidential candidate to sign the Presidential Pledge for Religious Freedom."
At press time former Senator Rick Santorum was the only candidate to sign the pledge. According to Open Doors, a candidate's signature indicates that they are committed to upholding religious freedom for people of all faiths in America, nominating U.S. federal judges who are committed to upholding religious freedom as defined in the pledge and prioritizing religious freedom concerns in U.S. foreign policy.
The presidential pledge has been endorsed by more than 30 organizations, institutions and individuals, including the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, China Aid Association, Jubilee Campaign, the International Institute for Religious Freedom of the World Evangelical Alliance and the Universal Peace Federation USA.
Individual endorsers include The Honorable Ernest Istook, former U.S. congressman and a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation; Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Stuart W. Epperson, chairman of the board for Salem Communications Corporation; Michael Cromartie, vice president of Ethics and Public Policy Center; and Dr. Paul Marshall, senior fellow, Center for Religious Freedom at Hudson Institute.
Land, the SBC leader, said without U.S. intervention "the plight of millions of people around the world whose right (is) to freely express their faith will not improve."
"As the pledge indicates, religious freedom should be an integral part of the foreign policy of any U.S. presidential administration," he said. "It is more than duplicitous for us as Americans to enjoy this freedom for ourselves but to not actively advocate it for all people.
"Freedom denied to anyone today could be freedom denied to everyone tomorrow."
Open Doors USA, which does not endorse or support specific candidates, said the presidential pledge is an education tool for voters and was developed to raise awareness of the estimated 100 million Christians worldwide who suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation.
On Jan. 4, the organization plans to release its 2012 World Watch List of 50 countries that are the worst persecutors of Christians around the globe. The annual list a major project of the ministry.
For more information, visit www.pledgeforreligiousfreedom.com.