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Catholic leaders join in asking Obama to protect U.S. religious freedom

 | 
Washington, D.C.

Two Catholics joined with eight evangelical leaders in asking President Barack Obama to defend religious liberty in the United States as he has defended it in other countries.

"As you promote religious freedom abroad, please also give attention to preserving the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans here at home," said the letter, dated Feb. 26.

"Some Americans are concerned that your administration's domestic policies do not fully protect the religious convictions of all our citizens," it said. "Your leadership abroad will be strongest as you point to the robust religious freedom protection that is provided even to those who may be critics of your administration."

The two Catholics who signed the letter, which was distributed by the National Association of Evangelicals, were Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington and Stephen F. Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington.

Much of the letter lauded Obama for his efforts to promote religious freedom abroad.

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"We applaud your words in support of Pastor Saeed Abedini and (the Rev.) Kenneth Bae," the letter said. Abedini is an Iranian-American who converted from Islam to Christianity and is in an Iranian prison after fostering the growth of a house-church movement in Iran. Bae is an American citizen and Baptist pastor born in South Korea who was imprisoned by North Korea for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

Obama mentioned both of them Feb. 6 during his remarks the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

"We join you in calling for robust recognition of religious liberty by all in Syria, Sudan, Egypt, Burma (Myanmar), Pakistan, Nigeria, China, Iran, North Korea, the Holy Land and everywhere where believers are threatened," the letter added.

"We applaud your pledge to name a new ambassador at large for international religious freedom in the very near future. We urge you to appoint a proven leader with the stature to engage world leaders and to give this person your full support as he or she represents and promotes our government's commitment to religious freedom."

The at-large ambassador post was established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The ambassadorship is the key position in the United States on religious freedom, and the seat has been vacant since October.

The letter said, "America has been a beacon and defender of religious liberty. Religious liberty and freedom of conscience were universally acclaimed by America's Founders and Framers to be foundational for all further human rights and liberties. It is worthy and inspiring that you have called upon all Americans to stand up for the free exercise of religion at this critical hour."

Among the evangelical leaders who signed the letter were the Rev. Joel C. Hunter, who is senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, in Florida, and who offered the closing benediction at the 2008 Democratic National Convention; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

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