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Occurrences in the Congressional Record

Entry Title Date
The Three Coequal Branches Of Government July 11, 2014
Rob Woodall, R-GA
"I want to get good policy out of this Chamber, too. I want to get policy out of this town. I want to make a difference in the lives of people back home, but not at the expense of the birthright that I have inherited, which is this great country and the experiment in self-government. I believe we are worthy of that birthright. I believe we can rise to that occasion, but it is not going to happen by accident, and it is not going to happen just inside the four walls of this building. It has got to happen in the hearts and the minds of every single family in this country, who are the true leaders of this Nation, and I hope those will be their instructions to us each and every day."
Climate Change February 12, 2014
Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI
"It wasn’t always this way. Conservation of this land’s natural resources used to be a core value of the Republican party, and protecting future generations’ natural birthright from plundering by special-interest industry was a cornerstone of Republican leadership. This month actually marks the anniversary of a milestone in that kind of American leadership."
A Great Deal Of News To Report January 7, 2014
Louie Gohmert, R-TX
"Mr. Husain’s writing does not deserve to be considered as serious literature if he is either that lazy or that significant of a liar. All he would have to do is research. Hopefully, he did that research, which would mean he is clearly one of the largest liars around. Now, if either Anderson Cooper or Mr. Husain or others would do a little homework—it doesn’t take that much—they would find that something called “birthright tourism” is big around the world. It is significant."
Giving Thanks For America’S “First Freedom” November 21, 2013
Frank Wolf, R-VA
"I would like to begin by thanking AJC for the invitation to join you at the annual “America’s Table Thanksgiving Luncheon” the theme of which is religious freedom. In 1620 a hearty band of Pilgrims set sail for the New World in the face of tremendous peril and uncertainty such that they might be able to live, act and worship according to the dictates of their conscience. The traditional first Thanksgiving feast celebrated at Plymouth was a time for the Pilgrims who had survived the journey by sea and the harsh winter that followed to give thanks for the bountiful harvest and recognize the hand of Divine Providence that had guided them to this point. I read with great interest recently that this year, for the first time since 1888, Thanksgiving and the first full day of Hanukkah fall on the same day. There are of course deep thematic commonalities between the two holidays—both grounded in triumph over religious oppression. But even as we celebrate the American experience in this regard, I am reminded anew that religious freedom remains an elusive hope for too many. As I reflect on the privilege of living in America I am cognizant of the responsibility that comes with that to help those around the world who are oppressed or persecuted. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Dr. King’s statement is so poignant. In times of trouble, the silence of an enemy is expected, but the silence of a friend is devastating. I am concerned that this nation, which has always been a friend to the oppressed, the marginalized and the forgotten is at risk of sidelining this “first freedom” and failing to speak out when it comes under attack. Arguably religious freedom has never been more under assault than it is today. Looking to the Middle East there is often societal and communal violence and repression against religious communities which specifically targets religious minorities. Too often the governments of these lands foster an atmosphere of intolerance or in some cases such as Iran, outright criminality as it relates to different faith traditions like the Baha’is. Tragically, since 1979, the Iranian government has killed more than 200 Baha’i leaders and dismissed over 10,000 from government and university jobs. The dangerous realities facing religious minorities have been exasperated by the so-called Arab Spring—a Spring which has devolved into Winter for many of the most vulnerable in these societies. In February I travelled to the Middle East—specifically to Lebanon and Egypt. One of the main purposes of the trip was to spend time with the Syrian Christian community—a community with ancient roots dating back to the 1st century. I wanted to hear firsthand from Syrian Christians about their concerns and to put this issue in the larger context of an imperiled Christian community in the broader Middle East, specifically in Egypt and Iraq. In my meetings with Coptic Christians and other minorities in Egypt they spoke of being increasingly marginalized with the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood. While Morsi has since been removed from power, the situation in Egypt today remains fluid. However, this much is clear: Attacks against Coptic Christians have escalated and they are feeling threatened in the land they have inhabited for centuries. The issues I’ve just outlined must be viewed not simply as today’s news but rather through the lens of history. A phrase not often heard outside the majority Muslim world is “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.” The “Saturday people” are, of course, the Jewish people. Except for Israel, their once vibrant communities in countries throughout the region are now decimated. In 1948 the Jewish population of Iraq was roughly 150,000; today no more than 4 remain … some reports indicate there may actually be just one Jewish person left in Iraq. In Egypt, the Jewish population was once as many as 80,000; now roughly 20 remain. Consider this observation by author and adjunct fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, Lela Gilbert, who recently wrote in the Huffington Post: “Between 1948 and 1970, between 80,000 and 100,000 Jews were expelled from Egypt— their properties and funds confiscated, their passports seized and destroyed. They left, stateless, with little more than the shirts on their backs to show for centuries of Egyptian citizenship… .” One of my last meetings in Egypt last February was with 86- year-old Carmen Weinstein, the president of the Jewish Community of Cairo (JCC). She was born and raised in Egypt and had lived her entire life there. She led a small community of mostly elderly Jewish women in Cairo, who with their sister community in Alexandria, represent Egypt’s remaining Jews. There are 12 synagogues left in Cairo. Some, along with a landmark synagogue in Alexandria, have been refurbished by the government of Egypt and/or U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and have received protection as cultural and religious landmarks—many have not. Further, the 900 year old Bassatine Jewish Cemetery is half overrun with squatters and sewage. Ms. Weinstein sought to preserve these historic landmarks as well as the patrimony records of the Egyptian Jewish community. I am aware of the good work of AJC in establishing a fund for the maintenance and preservation of Jewish cultural, religious and historical landmarks, including cemeteries, in Egypt. Not long after my return to the U.S., Ms. Weinstein passed away and is now buried in the very cemetery she sought to protect. Meanwhile, with the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Coptic Christians, numbering roughly 8-10 million, are leaving in droves in the face of increased repression, persecution and violence. Similarly, Iraq’s Christian population has fallen from as many as 1.4 million in 2003 to roughly 500,000 today. There are roughly 60 Christian churches in the entire country, down from more than 300 as recently as 2003. Of course other, much smaller but no less vulnerable, religious minorities have also suffered greatly in Iraq. Over the span of a few decades, the Middle East, with the exception of Israel, has virtually been emptied of its Jewish community. In my conversations with Syrian Christian refugees, Lebanese Christians and Coptic Christians in Egypt, a resounding theme emerged: a similar fate may await the “Sunday People.” While it remains to be seen whether the historic exodus of Christians from the region will prove to be as dramatic as what has already happened to the Jewish community, it is without question devastating, as it threatens to erase Christianity, and in fact Judaism in many respects, from its very roots. Consider Iraq. With the exception of Israel, the Bible contains more references to the cities, regions and nations of ancient Iraq than any other country. The patriarch Abraham came from a city in Iraq called Ur. Isaac’s bride, Rebekah, came from northwest Iraq. Jacob spent 20 years in Iraq, and his sons (the 12 tribes of Israel) were born in northwest Iraq. A remarkable spiritual revival as told in the book of Jonah occurred in Nineveh. The events of the book of Esther took place in Iraq as did the account of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Furthermore, many of Iraq’s Christians still speak Aramaic the language of Jesus. In Egypt, some 2,000 years ago, Mary, Joseph and Jesus sought refuge in this land from the murderous aims of King Herod. Egypt’s Coptic community traces its origins to the apostle Mark. If the Middle East is effectively emptied of the Christian faith, this will have grave geopolitical implications. But rather than being met with urgency, vision or creativity, our government’s response has been anemic and at times outright baffling especially to the communities most impacted by the changing Middle East landscape. In conversation after conversation Coptic Christians, reformers, secularist, women and others have told me that the U.S. was perceived as the largest supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government. Further, there was a widely held perception that the U.S. was either disengaged or simply uninterested in advocating for religious freedom and other basic human rights. While the situation is grim in the Middle East—it is hardly an anomaly. People of faith are under assault elsewhere in the world. The Chinese government maintains a brutal system of labor camps. Common criminals languish behind bars with people of faith and Nobel laureates who dare to question the regime’s authority. A February 2013 Christianity Today piece reported that “China’s Christians felt a noticeable rise in persecution in 2012 as the Communist government began the first of a three-phase plan to eradicate unregistered house churches, a new report says.” Currently every one of the approximately 25 underground bishops of the Catholic Church is either in jail, under house arrest, under strict surveillance, or in hiding. The government is an equal opportunity persecutor of people of faith. Over the last two years, over 100 peace-loving Tibetans have set themselves aflame in desperation at the abuses suffered by their people. The government of Vietnam continues to suppress political dissent and severely limit freedom of expression, association, and public assembly. In Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims are prohibited from voting and their graves are desecrated. In Europe, Anti-Semitism is on the ascent. A November 8 New York Times article reported, “Fear of rising anti-Semitism in Europe has prompted nearly a third of European Jews to consider emigration because they do not feel safe in their home country, according to a detailed survey of Jewish perceptions released Friday by a European Union agency that monitors discrimination and other violations of basic rights.” The survey referenced was released on the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht violence against Jews in Nazi Germany. In a piece which ran in the Miami Herald last fall, AJC’s Miami director poignantly wrote, “World War II and the destruction of European Jewry taught us that anti-Semitism not only kills Jews, but also poisons and ultimately destroys the society that harbors it. People of good will said, `Never again,’ instituted courses on the Holocaust, and countered the image of the defenseless Jew by supporting the sovereign and democratic state of Israel. Yet today, seven decades after the Nazi death camps became operational, that lesson seems to be already forgotten in much of Europe, where small and defenseless Jewish communities face a renewed surge of anti-Semitism. This Jew-hatred expresses itself in xenophobic politics; physical attacks and intimidation; and interference with basic elements of Jewish religious practice.” This is troubling on a host of levels. For as history has shown us, if the Jews of a country were free to practice their faith, one could be reasonably confident that tolerance and freedom were possible for others. The Jewish people have characteristically been the canaries in the coal mine—litmus indicators of the state of freedom for all. In light of these realities, it is clear that religious freedom is under assault globally. Last September the Pew Research Center released a startling study which found that “three-quarters of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion, up from 70% a year earlier.” It is clear that the United States must do more to speak for those whose voices have been silenced. Frankly, the Obama administration in country after country has consistently sidelined human rights and religious freedom. In China we were told early on by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton that human rights issues in China “can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis.” In Sudan the administration actively working to undermine congressional attempts to isolate indicted war criminal and architect of genocide, Omar Bashir. Meanwhile, this Spring, the administration rewarded a notorious Sudanese government official, accused of torturing enemies and seeking to block U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur, with an invitation to Washington for high-level meetings. In Vietnam, the Obama administration, like the administration before it, has ignored bipartisan Congressional calls to place the government on the State Department’s list of the most egregious religious freedom violators, despite crackdowns on people of faith, preferring instead a policy defined simply by trade. In fact the administration has failed to designate any countries of particular concern, as it is required to do by law, since 2011. The list goes on. Turning back again to the Middle East: I have authored bipartisan legislation with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo which would create a special envoy position at the State Department charged with advocating for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia—specifically focusing on many of the countries I’ve mentioned here today. The legislation overwhelmingly passed the House earlier this Fall and is languishing in the Senate in part due to State Department opposition to virtually identical legislation last year. I am under no illusions that a special envoy holds the key to the survival or even thriving of these ancient faith communities. But to do nothing is not an option. And that seems to be precisely what this administration aims to do. Not only has it stood in the way of the envoy legislation, key positions within the foreign policy apparatus charged with prioritizing these issues have suffered extended vacancies and individual political prisoner cases are rarely raised in public thereby sending a clear message to tyrants and oppressors the world over that there is little price to pay for violating the first freedom. While I will continue to press for swift Senate action on the special envoy legislation, I leave you with a charge. I am increasingly convinced that the discussion (or lack thereof) among government leaders and opinion makers on this issue of religious persecution, is simply a downstream manifestation of what is happening in the broader culture, and specifically in the faith community domestically. When people of faith in this country are concerned about and advocate for people of faith who are besieged around the world, the government tends to act. Consider the shining example of Cold War advocacy by the American Jewish community which championed the plight of Soviet Jewry with remarkable effect. Could such passion be galvanized once again? I’ll close with the inspiring words of one of America’s greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln. Speaking to a nation torn apart by bloody civil war, he still saw the importance of giving thanks, and in 1863 set apart the last Thursday of November for such a celebration declaring: “We are prone to forget the Source from which [the blessings of fruitful years and healthful skies] come… . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God… .” While each of us may hail from varied backgrounds and beliefs, we know as Americans that religious freedom is our birthright—a gracious gift of the Most High God not to be denied by any man or government. As we gather today and later next week with family and friends let us pause for a moment and give thanks for our first freedom while not forgetting those for whom this gracious gift is denied."
Honoring The 20Th Anniversary Of The Black Men Of Labor October 28, 2013
Cedric Richmond, D-LA
"I want to commend the Black Men of Labor for their commitment to preserving the living, breathing birthright of the city of New Orleans, jazz music. Through our triumphs and tragedies, it is our rich legacy in the arts that keeps us grounded as a community. Organizations like the Black Men of Labor are at the core of this commitment."

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