NCC joins CWS calling on President Bush to not stop aid through the Cuban Council of Churches
Washington, D.C., July 7, 2006--The National Council of Churches USA has joined Church World Service, its sister humanitarian organization, in opposing a recommendation in a draft report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. It proposes the U.S. Commerce Department no longer grant licenses for humanitarian aid to the Cuban people that would go through the Cuban Council of Churches, because it violates religious freedom [http://churchworldservice.org/news/archives/2006/07/503.html].
NCC is urging its member denominations, state councils of churches and others to send an urgent message to President Bush with copies to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez urging them not to ban aid through the Cuban Council of Churches, an organization that they have partnered with for decades. Rice and Gutierrez co-chair the commission.
The report is in its second draft and expected to be officially released within the next week. These new restrictions are alarming because they would infringe upon religious freedom and jeopardize the Cuban people, especially children, by limiting aid to reach those most in need.
In 2004, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba issued its first report. It resulted in severe new restrictions on family, educational and religious travel to Cuba, and decreased the allowable remittances that Cuban-Americans were allowed to send to their families on the island.
"We have had an ecumenical relationship with the Cuban Council of Churches for a long time, as have churches and councils of churches around the world," said Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, associate general secretary for international affairs and peace at the NCC.
"If these recommendations are accepted by President Bush it would indicate that this administration is trying to dictate who our church ecumenical partners can be and how our humanitarian agencies can deliver aid to people who need it. That is an incredible intrusion into free exercise of religion," said Kireopoulos.
The report recommends that the Department of Commerce "[t]ighten regulations for the export of humanitarian items, other than agricultural or medical commodities, to ensure that exports are consigned to entities that support independent civil society and are not regime administered or controlled organizations, such as the Cuban Council of Churches."
Although the recommendation appears to make an exception for food and medicine--some of CWS's main shipments to the island nation--there is a great deal of concern that the implementation itself might not make room for such exemptions in the case of the Cuban Council of Churches. Furthermore, other humanitarian items, such as blankets, school kits and sewing supplies, and any other non-food and medicine aid will certainly be off-limits to the CCC. With the expectation that this will be one of the worst hurricane seasons ever, this seems especially unreasonable.
This new recommendation coupled with new restrictions on travel implemented in 2005 is viewed as an attack by the current administration on ecumenical relations that have existed for years. In addition, NCC is particularly concerned that the Cuban Council of Churches has been singled out, which could set a dangerous precedent internationally.
According to the letter being sent to the president, "It is completely inappropriate for the U.S. government, or any government, to determine who is and who is not a legitimate national council of churches, and to restrict or deny Christian fellowship and humanitarian assistance to any particular national church council, including the Cuban Council of Churches."
Rev. John L. McCullough, CWS executive director, said, "Ecumenical bodies have a right to determine their partners and to relate internationally. This raises grave concerns apart from the politics of U.S.-Cuban relations."
To view a copy of the letter being sent to administration officials or for those who wish to take action and urge the U.S. not to implement this recommendation visit www.faithfulamerica.org.
### Sample letter
Dear Mr. President: [with copies to Condoleezza Rice and Carlos Gutierrez]
I am dismayed to hear that the second report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba may contain a recommendation that U.S. churches and ecumenical agencies cease being able to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Cuban children, women and men through the globally recognized Cuban Council of Churches.
I believe that for the U.S. Government to implement this recommendation would be an affront to religious freedom. Such an action by the U.S. Government would seriously burden the religious freedom and Christian mission of ecumenical bodies in the United States--Church World Service and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Ecumenical Christian bodies have a right to determine their ecumenical partners and to engage with them internationally. It is completely inappropriate for the U.S. government, or any government, to determine who is and who is not a legitimate national council of churches, and to restrict or deny Christian fellowship and humanitarian assistance to any particular national church council, including the Cuban Council of Churches.
For these reasons I ask you as a fellow Christian to place no burden on the ability of U.S. churches and ecumenical organizations to engage in Christian fellowship and to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Cuban brothers and sisters through the Cuban Council of Churches.
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NCC News contacts: Dan Webster 212.870.2252, Rev. Leslie Tune 202.544.2350 email@example.com