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U.S.: Official Asks Religious Groups To Battle Terrorism

Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes (file photo) (AFP) U.S. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes addressed the International Conference on Faith and Service today. The theme of the conference was "Building Bridges Through Interreligious Dialogue And Youth Civic Engagement." Hughes called on persons of faith to combine forces to speak out against terrorism in much the same manner that religious groups battled slavery in the 19th century. She also used the forum to condemn the much publicized case in Afghanistan against Abdul Rahman, who is facing a possible death penalty for converting to Christianity.

WASHINGTON March 22, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Recounting the successful grass roots campaign that the religious rank and file waged against slavery in England in the 1830s, Hughes challenged the international audience, composed of representatives of more than three dozen countries, to mount a similar battle.

"I want to challenge you to do to terrorism what was done to slavery in the 19th century, when slavery went from being a widely accepted practice to an international pariah," Hughes said.

According to Hughes, that highly successful campaign drew its strength from the religious convictions of its participants about the quality and worth of every person. She said a new grassroots movements led by youth could "de-legitimize" terrorism by insisting that such a method is never justified no matter how worthy the cause may seem.

Summoning The Memory Of Apartheid

Hughes also recalled the victorious 20th century effort by religious groups to combat apartheid in South Africa.

But Hughes did not neglect more recent events. She addressed directly the current court case against the Afghan citizen Abdul Rahman for apostasy.

"In Afghanistan today a man is being prosecuted for his religious beliefs. This case clearly violates the universal freedoms held dear by democratic peoples throughout the world, and we believe it violates the Afghan constitution, which guarantees the right of an individual to freedom of religion,” she said. “We are deeply concerned and have expressed those concerns to the Afghan government. Freedom to worship according to one's own conscience and conviction is a fundamental human right that must be upheld by all of us all of the time."

Promoting religious freedom, according to Hughes, is a central element of the administration's international agenda.

Inspired By Jesus Christ

Hughes, a long time religious education teacher in the Presbyterian church -- a Protestant denomination -- revealed details of her own religious faith. She opened her speech with a tale from the New Testament. She recounted when the mother of two of Jesus' 12 disciples asks Jesus to put her two sons by his side when he enters a new kingdom.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus responded: "You know that in the world, rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of authority; but it shall not be so with you. Among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant , and whoever wants to be first must be the willing slave of all."

Hughes said Jesus' response to the mother has shaped her approach to government service.

“I found in that story a lesson for how to approach my jobs in government -- first in the White House and now at the State Department -- to remind myself everyday when you hear the fancy titles and the nice offices, and you get the nice seats at the nice dinners, to remind myself every day, a lot of times, sometimes several times a day -- that despite all, that I'm here first and foremost to serve. To serve the President, to serve the American people, to serve my country, and always, of course, to try to serve in keeping with my faith,” Hughes said.

Hughes anticipated possible criticism that since the United States firmly separates church and state, she should not be dabbling in religious matters. But she insisted that U.S. government officials cannot afford to ignore faith since it plays such a "critical" role in the lives of the worlds' peoples. Governments, she said, "would be foolish to ignore its power and impact."