February 6, 2018
Wilberforce A!ert: Bolivians stand strong for freedom of religion
This is an exciting moment for international religious freedom (IRF). Last week, our new Executive Director Sharon Payt wrote about a “religious freedom 2.0 movement.” I am encouraged by both the U.S. government and the people of Bolivia, who are taking bold action for religious freedom.
This past Thursday, I was deeply honored to be present as Vice President Mike Pence swore-in the new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback. The Ambassador’s work for the sake of persecuted people is evidenced by years of political effort on behalf of those who suffer.
Beyond the Ambassador’s confirmation, the U.S. administration is doing all it can to be sure that aid for genocide victims in Iraq is getting to the right people. The USAID Administrator, Mark Green, has pushed through innovative, effective, and timely new tools to assist Yezidis and Christians being left behind in the previous reconstruction efforts post-ISIS.
And in Bolivia, ordinary citizens have rallied against an unconstitutional law to force a change. The new law, adopted December 15, would have criminalized basic freedoms of religion and spiritual belief granted by the country’s constitution. According to Christian Post, the new penal code stated that, “Whoever recruits, transports, deprives of freedom or hosts people with the aim of recruiting them to take part in armed conflicts or religious or worship organizations will be penalized five to 12 years of imprisonment.”
The people of Bolivia acted, knowing their very basic human rights would be under threat if the law were allowed to stand. Evangelical leaders prayed and fasted, Christian lawyers in the region protested at Bolivia’s embassies and citizens marched in Cochabamba.
A statement from the National Association of Evangelicals of Bolivia went on to say that political leaders should, “have the determination of working for solutions through sincere and proactive dialogue” with all of the stakeholders. As Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Dr. Elijah Brown noted, the law would not only impact a specific group, but also “all who might find themselves unable to live according to the dictates of their conscience.”
In late January, after weeks of pressure, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced he was revoking the entire penal code and beginning a process that will bring relevant stakeholders to the table.
With citizens from other countries ready to stand for their rights, religious organizations ready to protest and offer helpful dialogue, and U.S. government leaders focused on the real harm and geo-political danger of religious persecution, we do stand at a critical time. We need you to join in, we need you to lend your voice and we need you to stand with the persecuted.
Frank R. Wolf, Distinguished Senior Fellow
1) Write to the Bolivian Embassy in the U.S. and thank the Chargé d'Affaires for his government taking a more democratic approach to the criminal code in a way that supports religious freedom:
Freddy Bersatti Tudela, Chargé d'Affaires
3014 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008
2) Find out how your senators and representative have engaged in IRF issues so you can exercise your voice just as the Bolivian people did. Sign up to receive the upcoming International Religious Freedom Congressional Interim Scorecard. www.irfscorecard.org.