Slavery in Minnesota

Map of U.S.-Dakota War, 1862
Map of U.S.-Dakota War, 1862
Fort Snelling
Fort Snelling, Minnesota

Black slavery existed in supposedly free Minnesota. It happened primarily when U.S. Army officers stationed at Minnesota’s Fort Snelling[1] brought slaves with them at the Army’s expense. This practice did not end until just before the start of the Civil War in 1861 as confirmed by the 1865 adoption of the XIII Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning slavery in this country.

Bachmanbook

These are some of the startling findings in Northern Slave Black Dakota: The Life and Times of Joseph Godfrey by Walt Bachman, a former Minnesota attorney, an historian and friend.[2]

The focus of the book is Joseph Godfrey, who was born to a black mother (Courtney) and a French Canadian father in the early 1830’s in Mendota, Minnesota across the Minnesota River from Fort Snelling.

At that time Joseph’s mother was a slave owned by Alexander Bailley, a prominent fur trader.  She had been born into slavery around 1812 in Virginia and was owned in that state by James Garland until 1820, when she was sold to his brother, U.S. Army Captain John Garland. The Captain then took her with him on Army postings to supposedly free Michigan and Wisconsin and then in 1826 to Fort Snelling. During this time Garland claimed and received extra compensation from the Army for Courtney until he sold her in 1831 to Bailley.

By virtue of his race and parentage, Godfrey upon birth also was a slave owned by Mr. Bailley and is one of the few African Americans known to have born into slavery in Minnesota and the only one known to have grown from birth to adulthood there. Godfrey lived with the Bailley family in Wabasha, Hastings and Shakopee (then known as Faribault Springs), Minnesota. Probably in the 1840s Godfrey was sold or transferred to Bailley’s brother-in-law, Oliver Fairbault.[3]

In or about 1847 Godfrey escaped his owner and walked about 40 miles southwest along the Minnesota River to Traverse des Sioux, a village at a shallow river crossing.[4] There he presented himself to Alexander Huggins, a militant abolitionist Presbyterian missionary whom he had previously met.

Almost immediately, however, Godfrey fled to join the Indian bands led by Chiefs Wabasha and Wakute along the Mississippi River. In 1853 Godfrey moved back along the Minnesota River in south central Minnesota after an 1851 treaty required those tribes to go to a new Dakota reservation in that location. In any event, Godfrey lived with Dakota Indians for over 12 years after his escape from his owner.

Godfrey thus was living with the Dakota when the U.S.-Dakota War broke out and he joined the Indians in that War. On August 18th he was with a Dakota war party that attacked farmers in Milford. Afterwards he said he had killed several men and children that day although the subsequent military commission apparently did not believe any such statements as he was acquitted of murdering anyone himself. Godfrey also participated in other battles of the War. Exactly what he did in these battles is unclear, but in any event on or about September 24th he along with some of the Dakota warriors surrendered to the U. S. Army.

Later he was tried and convicted by a military commission as will be discussed in a subsequent post.

Godfrey was not the only slave living in Minnesota during these years as Bachman’s book explains.

One of these other slaves was Dred Scott, who lived with his owner, Dr. John Emerson, while he was posted at Fort Snelling from 1836 to 1840. Scott, of course, was the subject of the infamous U.S. Supreme Court case of 1857 holding that Scott because he was black was a non-citizen who had no right to bring a claim in a federal court and invalidating as unconstitutional  the Missouri Compromise law of 1820-1821 prohibiting slavery in the Northern territories.


[1] Today Fort Snelling is close to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and is a National Historic Landmark operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. It is named after U.S. Army Colonel Josiah Snelling, the first Commandant of the Fort while he owned slaves.

[2] The 2013 book is published by Pond Dakota Press, a division of the Pond Dakota Heritage Society of Bloomington, Minnesota ((ISBN 978-0-9850099-0-8. Gideon and Samuel Pond were 19th century Presbyterian missionaries to Minnesota. Bachman is working on another book about the Army’s more general pre-Civil War promotion of slavery in the U.S.

[3]  The current Minnesota city of Faribault is named after Oliver’s brother, Alexander Faribault.

[4] This river crossing was used by generations of Dakota and early French fur traders as a trading outpost. Traverse des Sioux was the site of treaty negotiations in 1851 between the U.S. government and the Dakota. Today the Nicollet County Historical Society operates the site as well as the adjacent Treaty Site History Center.

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom: Structure and Composition

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 as an independent U.S. government body that monitors religious freedom worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.  On December 16, 2011, the Commission’s life was extended by Congress through 2018 after a series of brief extensions had kept it in existence after its previous authorization expired in September 2011.

Its latest annual report on this subject and its views on Cuban religious freedom have been critiqued in prior posts. Now we look at the structure and composition of the Commission.

Under the statute, the Commission is to be composed of nine “distinguished [U.S. citizens] noted for their knowledge and experience in fields relevant to the issue of international religious freedom, including foreign affairs, direct experience abroad, human rights and international law.”

The nine are to be appointed as follows: three by the U.S. President; three by the U.S. Senate’s President pro tempore and three by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Each of the sets of the congressional appointees is to be upon two recommendations from the leader of the political party that does not control the White House and one recommendation from the leader of the President’s political party. Currently there is one vacancy on the Commission.

Rev. William Shaw
Rev. William Shaw
Eric P. Schwartz
Eric P. Schwartz

 

The current Presidential appointees are Rev. William Shaw and Eric P. Schwartz. Shaw is a Baptist Pastor and Immediate Past President of the National Baptist Convention; he serves as a Vice Chair of the Commission. Schwartz is the Dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. He previously was a senior official of the State Department, the National Security Council, the U.N. and the U.S. Congress.

Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett
Dr. Katrina            Lantos Swett

The appointee upon recommendation of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, the Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights in honor of her father, Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress. She also is a professor of human rights and American foreign policy at Tufts University and serves as the Commission’s Chair.

Sam Gejdenson
Sam Gejdenson

 

Sam Gejdenson is the appointee upon recommendation of Nancy Peloisi, House Minority Leader. He is a former Democratic Congressman, the first child of Holocaust survivors to serve in Congress and a leader in human rights, democracy and global engagement.

 

Mary Ann Glendon
Mary Ann Glendon
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appointees upon recommendations by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are  Mary Ann Glendon and  the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University, President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Professor Glendon also serves as a Vice Chair of the Commission.[1]  Dr. Jasser is a physician and the President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy whose parents fled oppression in Syria.

Elliott Abrams
Elliott Abrams
Dr. Robert P. George
Dr. Robert P. George

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appointees upon recommendation of House Minority Leader Eric Cantor are Elliott Abrams and Dr. Robert P. George. Abrams is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a professor of U.S. foreign policy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a former senior official in the George W. Bush and Reagan Administrations.[2] Dr. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University and a distinguished appointee to various U.S. and UNESCO bodies.

Suzan Johnson Cook
Suzan Johnson Cook

These Commissioners are joined by the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom (ex officio and nonvoting). That currently is Suzan D. Johnson Cook.


[1]  Professor Glendon’s book, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is an excellent account of the international development of the Declaration and the important role played by Mrs. Roosevelt in that endeavor.

[2] In 1991 upon his guilty plea Abrams was convicted on two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal, but in December 1992 he was pardoned by President George H. W. Bush. In 1997 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit publicly censured Abrams, an attorney, for giving false testimony on three occasions to Congress.

 

 

Cuban Religious Freedom (U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom)

We have provided a general overview of the latest international religious freedom reports from the U.S. Department of State and from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and another post analyzed the State Department’s report on that freedom in Cuba.[1] Now we contrast and compare the Commission’s shorter and less detailed report on that subject for Cuba.[2]

Positive Aspects of Religious Freedom in Cuba

The report had a few good things to say about religious freedom in Cuba.

First, it did not include Cuba in its list of “countries of particular concern” (CPC), i.e.,  those that have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom.

Second, it recognized that “[p]ositive developments for the Catholic Church and major registered Protestant denominations, including Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists, continued over the last year.” (Emphasis added.)

The Commission endorsed the State Department reports “that religious communities were given greater freedom to discuss politically sensitive issues. Catholic and Protestant Sunday masses were held in more prisons throughout the island. Religious denominations continued to report increased opportunities to conduct some humanitarian and charity work, receive contributions from co-religionists outside Cuba, and obtain Bibles and other religious materials. Small, local processions continued to occur in the provinces.”

The Commission also stated that the Cuban government granted the Cuban Council of Churches time for periodic broadcasts early Sunday mornings, and Cuba’s Roman Catholic Cardinal read Christmas and Easter messages on state-run stations. Relations between the Catholic Church and Cuban government continued to improve,” marked by Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba.

Negative Aspects of Religious Freedom in Cuba

The report also commented on what it saw as negative aspects of religious freedom in Cuba.

Some of the criticisms echo the State Department’s report regarding the Cuban government’s system for registering religious groups, limiting certain activities to such registered groups, restricting permits for construction or repair of religious buildings, limiting access to state media and denying permission for religious processions outside religious buildings. The Commission, however, fails to mention the Department’s qualifications that these purported restrictions of religious freedom are not enforced in practice.

The Commission mentions the Cuban government’s arrest and detention of human rights/democracy activists that prevented them from attending church services, as did the Department’s report. As noted in my prior post, however, these arrests and detentions, in my opinion, are blots on Cuba’s general human rights record, not that for its religious freedom.

Another negative, according to the Commission, are the alleged Cuban government’s arrests and beatings on four occasions of evangelical pastors and the alleged targeting of the Apostolic Reformation and Western Baptist communities. We, however, do not know all the facts of these alleged events, and even if true as stated by the Commission, they do not, in my opinion, justify the Commission’s overall evaluation of Cuban religious freedom.[3]

That overall evaluation includes Cuba as one of eight countries on the Commission’s “Watch List of countries where the serious violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments do not meet the CPC threshold, but require close monitoring.” According to the Commission, the “Watch List provides advance warning of negative trends that could develop into severe violations of religious freedom, thereby providing policymakers with the opportunity to engage early and increasing the likelihood of preventing or diminishing the violations.”

Cuba has been on this Watch List since 2004.[4] Its inclusion yet again, in my opinion, is due to sheer long-term blinders on U.S. perceptions of Cuba, not to an objective analysis of the facts.

Recommendations for U.S. Policy 

In accordance with its authorizing statute,[5] the Commission made the following recommendations for U.S. policy with respect to Cuban religious freedom:

  • press the Cuban government to “stop arrests and harassment of clergy and religious leaders;  cease interference with religious activities and the internal affairs of religious communities; allow unregistered religious groups to operate freely and legally; revise government policies that restrict religious services in homes or on other personal property; and hold accountable police and other security personnel for actions that violate the human rights of non-violent religious practitioners;”
  • “use appropriated funds to advance Internet freedom and protect Cuban activists from harassment and arrest by supporting the development of new technologies, while also immediately distributing proven and field-tested programs to counter censorship;”
  • “increase the number of visas issued to Cuban religious leaders from both registered and unregistered religious communities to travel to the United States to interact with co-religionists;” and
  • “encourage international partners, including key Latin American and European countries and regional blocks, to ensure that violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights are part of all formal and informal multilateral or bilateral discussions with Cuba.”

I note first that if Cuba properly were excluded from the Watch List, there would be no basis for the Commission’s making any recommendations with respect to Cuba.

With respect to the recommendations themselves, the first one seems like an excessive concern with formalities since in practice these restrictions are not enforced. Has the U.S. updated all of its statutes and regulations to conform them to what happens in the real world?

The third recommendation should be noncontroversial, and I agree the U.S. should grant tourist visas for Cuban religious representatives to visit the U.S.

I also have no problem with the fourth recommendation, but believe that most other countries and regional blocks would not see the alleged violations of freedom of religion or belief that the Commission sees.

The second recommendation, however, raises significant problems and is objectionable.

It is difficult to know exactly what is meant by recommending the U.S. use its funds to advance Internet freedom and protect Cuban activists, to develop new technologies and to distribute proven and field-tested programs to counter censorship.

To me, it sounds like a recommendation for surreptitious efforts at regime change. Remember that the U.S. in 1961 supported an armed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, that the U.S. through the CIA had plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, that the U.S. for over 50 years has had an embargo of Cuba and that the George W. Bush Administration had a Commission on Assistance to a Free Cuba that produced a de facto U.S. plan for such a regime change.

Another, and more powerful, reason for being at least skeptical of this second recommendation is the case of Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen, who is now in Cuban prison after conviction in 2009 for–as the Cubans see it– being part of a “subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the Revolution through the use of communication systems out of the control of authorities.” As an employee of an USAID contractor, Mr. Gross went to Cuba on multiple occasions purportedly to establish wireless networks and Internet connections for non-dissident Cuban Jewish communities and to deliver certain communications equipment to Cubans for that purpose.

In 2012 Mr. Gross and his wife sued USAID and the contractor for allegedly failing to give him better information and training for his dangerous work, and this month (May 2013) the Grosses and the contractor reached a settlement for dismissal of the case against the corporation in exchange for an undisclosed monetary payment by the contractor.

In short, this second recommendation is not designed to improve religious freedom in Cuba.

Conclusion

The State Department’s more balanced recent report on Cuban religious freedom, in my opinion, is better grounded in reality than the Commission’s. While I believe the U.S. should encourage and promote religious freedom around the world, including Cuba, the recommendations by the Commission are unjustified and counterproductive and evidence the same bias against Cuba that we see in other aspects of U.S. policy towards Cuba.[6]


[1] The prior post also reviewed the religious makeup of the Cuban people and many other details on the subject that will not be repeated here.

[2] Prior posts examined the Commission reports for Cuba for 2010 and 2011(comment to prior post). A subsequent post will discuss the unusual structure of the Commission.

[3] The Commission’s heavy emphasis on the relatively few alleged wrongs against evangelical pastors and its ignoring the positive developments in religious freedom for “registered” religious groups like the Roman Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Methodists demonstrate a totally inappropriate and unjustified bias in a purported nonpartisan U.S. agency of our federal government. Such a bias is not new. It also was present in the George W. Bush Administration’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which regarded unnamed evangelical Christian groups as the only “authentically independent” religious groups that could be used by the U.S. to build a “free” Cuba.  The Cuban Council of Churches, on the other hand, was seen by this U.S. commission as “taken over by the Castro regime in the early 1960s and used as a means to control the Protestant churches” and, therefore, was not to be used by the U.S.

[4]  The other seven countries on the Commission’s Watch List are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia.

[5]  That statute charges the Commission with the responsibility of “making  . . . policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress with respect to [Cuban] religious freedom.” (International Religious Freedom Act of 1988, § 202(a)(2); id. § 202(b); id. § 202(c).

Cuban Religious Freedom (U.S. State Department’s Report)

cuba_havana_matanzas

We have just reviewed the latest international religious freedom reports from the U.S. Department of State and from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Now we look at the Department’s recent report on Cuban religious freedom.[1] A subsequent post will examine and compare the Commission’s recent views on the subject.

Versalles Church, Matanzas, Cuba
Versalles Church,   Matanzas, Cuba
SET Chapel
SET Chapel, Matanzas, Cuba

 

 

 

 

 

 

This analysis is based upon my personal involvement in helping to establish and manage a partnership between my church (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church) and Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Versalles (Versalles Presbyterian-Reformed Church) in Matanzas, Cuba; my going on three church mission trips over the last 10 years to visit that congregation; my visits to the ecumenical seminary–Seminario Evangelico de Teologia (SET)–in Matanzas and other churches and religious organizations on these mission trips;  my hearing reports about other trips to our Cuban partner from fellow members of my church; my conversations with Cuban Christians at their church and when they have visited my church in Minneapolis; and my extensive reading about Cuba and specifically religious freedom on the island.

Cuban Religious Makeup

According to the report, an estimated 60 to 70 percent (or 6,600,000 to 7,700,000) of the 11 million Cuban people are  believed to be Roman Catholic although only 4 to 5 percent regularly attend mass.

Membership in Protestant churches is estimated at 5 percent of the population (or 550,000):  Baptists and Pentecostals are probably the largest Protestant denominations; Jehovah’s Witnesses, 94,000; Methodists, 35,000; Seventh-day Adventists, 33,000; Anglicans, 22,000; Presbyterians, 15,000; Quakers, 300; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 50.

The Jewish community is estimated at 1,500 members, of whom 1,200 reside in Havana. (On one of my trips to Cuba we visited a synagogue in Havana to deliver a digital version of the Talmud as a gift from our friends at Minneapolis’ Temple Israel.)

There are approximately 6,000 to 8,000 Muslims, although only an estimated 1,000 are Cubans.

Other religious groups include the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, Buddhists and Baha’is. (On another trip to Cuba we visited the beautiful Greek Orthodox Cathedral to deliver an icon as a gift from our friends at Minneapolis’ St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church.)

In addition, many Cubans consult with practitioners of religions with roots in West Africa and the Congo River basin, known as Santeria. These religious practices are commonly intermingled with Catholicism, and some even require Catholic baptism for full initiation, making it difficult to estimate accurately the total membership of these syncretistic groups. (I have visited the Slave Route Museum in the city of Matanzas, Cuba that has a room devoted to Santeria and Havana’s Callejon de Hamel, an alley with  Santeria murals and other things.)

Positive Aspects of Religious Freedom in Cuba

The State Department report had many good things to say about religious freedom in Cuba.

The Cuban “constitution protects religious freedom.” After the 1989 collapse of the U.S.S.R, the Cuban constitution was amended to eliminate “scientific materialism” (atheism) as the state ideology and to declare “the country to be a secular state” with “separation of church and state. The government does not officially favor any particular religion or church.” Moreover, says the State Department, “there were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.” (The same was true in the Department’s prior report for 2011.)

The Cuban government’s respect for religious freedom improved in 2012.

There “were some advances in the ability of members of established churches to meet and worship.”  In  addition, religious groups reported “improved ability [in 2012] to attract new members without government interference. . . . reduced interference from the government in conducting their services, and improvement in their ability to import religious materials, receive donations from overseas, and travel abroad to attend conferences and religious events.” It also was easier for them “to bring in foreign religious workers and visitors and restore houses of worship.” (The same was true in 2011.)

Churches reported “increased participation in religious education for children.” The Catholic Church’s cultural center in Havana “continued to offer academic and business administration courses.”  The “Jewish Community Center and some Protestant churches also offered courses in lay subjects, such as computers and foreign languages.” Some religious groups “operated afterschool programs, weekend retreats and workshops for primary and secondary students and higher education programs for university graduates. Although not sanctioned by the government, these programs operated without interference.” (The same was true in 2011.)

“Religious groups reported they were able to engage in community service programs. These programs included providing assistance to the elderly, after-school tutoring for children, clean water, and health clinics. International faith-based charitable operations, such as Caritas and the Salvation Army, had local offices in Havana.” (The same was true in 2011.)

Indeed, not mentioned in the report is the de facto pharmacy for the neighborhood that is operated by our partner church in Matanzas with over-the-counter medicines donated by visitors from Westminster and by the Matanzas church’s providing one free meal per week to neighborhood residents, many of whom are not members of the church.

In addition, the nearby seminary in Matanzas (SET) now has a clean-water system that was installed by Westminster members and that now provides clean water to SET and to people in the surrounding neighborhood, and SET also provides vegetables from its beautiful gardens to people in the neighborhood.

Luyano Presbyterian-Reformed Church, Havana
Luyano Presbyterian-Reformed Church, Havana

Another clean-water system was installed by Westminster members in Havana’s Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Luyano (Luyano Presbyterian-Reformed Church), which shares the water with people in its neighborhood. A similar water system was installed last year in another church near Havana by Westminster members.

During the year the report says “the Catholic Church and some other churches were able to print periodicals and operate their own websites with little or no formal censorship.” The Catholic Church’s periodicals “sometimes criticized official social and economic policies.” As in previous years, the Catholic Church also received “permission to broadcast Christmas and Easter messages on state-run radio stations and, the Cuban “Council of Churches, the government-recognized Protestant umbrella organization, was authorized to host a monthly twenty-minute-long radio broadcast.” In addition, state-run television and radio stations mentioned a Council of Churches ceremony celebrating Reformation Sunday. (Essentially the same was true in 2011.)

The report’s referencing the Cuban Council of Churches, however, did not mention that the it was founded in 1941 (long before the Cuban Revolution), and its members now include 22 churches, 12 ecumenical movements, and seven associate organizations.

Cuban Council of Churches
Cuban Council of Churches

The Council, whose Havana offices I have visited, promotes unity among the Christian Churches of Cuba and helps link these churches with other churches around the world. The Council also encourages dialogue between different movements and institutions as a means for Cuban churches to expand their ecumenical vocation of service, thus deepening their responsibilities towards society and all of God’s creation. Finally the Council promotes study, dialogue, and cooperation among Christians to increase Christian witness and enhance life in Cuba.

The State Department said Cuban religious leaders reported that the government “frequently granted permission to repair or restore existing temples, allowing significant expansion of some structures and in some cases allowing essentially new buildings to be constructed on the foundations of the old. Many houses of worship were thus expanded or repaired.” (The same was true in 2011.) And in a prior year our partner church in Matanzas obtained such permission to expand its facilities for children’s Sunday School programming, and Westminster members helped build that expansion.)

Even though some religious organizations and “house churches” have not been officially recognized by the government, as required by Cuban law, in practice, said the State Department, most unregistered organizations and “house churches” operated with little or no interference from the government. (The same was true in 2011.)

Both the Catholic Church and the Cuban Council of Churches reported “they were able to conduct religious services in prisons and detention centers in most provinces.” (According to the report, however, some prison authorities did not inform inmates of their right to religious assistance, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits to a maximum of two or three times per year.) (The same was true in 2011.)

Although there is no official law of policy for conscientious objection to military service, since 2007 the government has unofficially allowed a period of civilian public service to substitute for military service for men who object on religious grounds. The leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists stated that their members usually were permitted to participate in social service in lieu of military service. (The same was true in 2011.)

The leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists stated that mistreatment and job discrimination, which had been particularly harsh in the past, were now rare and that their members were usually exempted from political activities at school. Seventh-day Adventist leaders stated that their members employed by the state usually were excused from working on Saturdays. (The same was true in 2011.)

Pope Benedict XVI @ Plaza de Revolucion
Pope Benedict XVI @      Plaza de Revolucion

In late March 2012 Pope Benedict XVI visited the island at the invitation of the Cuban government, which assisted in organizing papal masses in large public squares in the two largest cities. During the mass in Havana’s Plaza de Revolucion before a crowd of thousands, the Pope called for “authentic freedom.” The government declared a three-day public holiday to facilitate citizen participation in these events, and videos of the visit were broadcast on state-run television stations with parallel coverage in the print media.

Negative Aspects of Religious Freedom in Cuba

Although to my eye the Department’s report is overwhelmingly positive, it still opens with an unnecessary negative tone. It says, “in practice, [the Cuban] government policies and practices restricted religious freedom . . . . The Cuban Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs, continued to control most aspects of religious life.”

The report also had specifics on what it saw as negative aspects of religious freedom in Cuba.

The report notes that obtaining government permission for construction of new religious buildings remained difficult.

(This may well be true, but, in my opinion, this difficulty springs from the government’s attempts to regulate the allocation of scarce resources in a relatively poor country and to allocate more resources to other purposes it deems more important. It was not an attempt to restrict religious freedom. Moreover, as noted above, the State Department recognized that it was relatively easy in 2012 for Cuban religious groups to obtain government permission to repair and remodel existing buildings.)

By law religious groups are required to apply to the Ministry of Justice for official recognition. The application procedure requires religious groups to identify the location of their activities and their source of funding, and requires the ministry to certify that the group is not ‘duplicating’ the activities of another recognized organization in which case, recognition is denied. A number of religious groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, have been waiting for years for a decision from the Ministry of Justice on their pending applications for official recognition.

(However, as previously noted, the report said that unrecognized religious groups were able to conduct religious activities, hold meetings, receive foreign visitors, and send representatives abroad. In addition, I believe that the government’s official requirement that such applications indicate it is not “duplicating” another organization’s activities is due to the previously mentioned desire to conserve scarce resources.)

Once the Ministry of Justice grants official recognition, religious organizations have to request permission from the Cuban Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs, to hold meetings in approved locations, to receive foreign visitors, and to travel abroad. Religious groups indicated that while many applications were approved within two to three years from the date of the application, other applications received no response or were denied. Some religious groups were only able to register a small percentage of their “house churches.”

(However, as previously noted, the report also says that the “house churches” operate without governmental interference.)

The report states that religious groups may not establish schools. This is true because the Cuban Revolution nationalized all private schools and instead emphasized public education for all children.

The report also says, “Except for two Catholic seminaries and several interfaith training centers throughout the island, religious schools were not permitted.”

This is an erroneous or misleading statement about religious education in Cuba as shown by the report’s own acknowledgement that religious organizations had increased ability to conduct their own educational programs and by the following facts not mentioned in the report:

  • Since 1946 there has been an ecumenical Protestant Christian seminary in the city of Matanzas — Seminario Evangelico de Teologia (SET)–that was founded by the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal Churches. It has a full curriculum for various degrees as well as other non-degree programs, some of which are offered in other cities on the island.
  • The Methodists recently withdrew from SET to start their own seminary in Havana.
MLK Center, Havana
MLK Center, Havana
  • SET and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Havana are developing a program for education of prospective owners and operators of private businesses on the island under the government’s announcement allowing such activities. The MLK Center, by the way, was founded in 1987 to provide training and education in King’s philosophy of nonviolence for Cuban religious and community leadership.
  •  In the last several summers young people from Westminster have conducted a vacation Bible school at our partner church in Matanzas.

“A license from the Office of Religious Affairs is necessary to import religious literature and other religious materials.” (Yet, as previously mentioned, the report itself states there were fewer restrictions on such importation.)

The report also states that “the government owns nearly all printing equipment and supplies and tightly regulates printed materials, including religious literature.”(This, in my opinion, is an overstatement. Our partner church in Matanzas owns old-fashioned printing presses and at least one specialized computer printer, and the church prints and distributes religious bulletins and journals for most, if not all, of the Protestant churches on the island.)

Printing press, Versalles Church, Matanzas
Printing press, Versalles Church, Matanzas
Church bulletins for distribution, Versalles Church, Matanzas
Church bulletins for distribution, Versalles Church, Matanzas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The report states that most “religious leaders reported they exercised self-censorship in what they preached and discussed during services. Many feared that direct or indirect criticism of the government could result in government reprisals, such as denials of permits from the Office of Religious Affairs or other measures that could stymie the growth of their organizations.” (May be true.)

The government took “measures to limit support for outspoken religious figures that it considered a challenge to its authority.” I have no basis to challenge that statement or the specifics cited by the report on this point with respect to Pastor Omar Perez Ruiz (aka Omar Gude Perez), a leader of the Apostolic Reformation, an association of independent nondenominational churches or the Ladies in White, or the death of Oswaldo Paya Sardinas in an auto crash. (Whatever the facts are in these cases, I believe they are issues of civil liberties for Cuban dissidents, not issues of religious freedom.)

Conclusion

Is the glass half empty or half full? This is the question for all human activities since none of us is perfect, and it is the legitimate question about religious freedom in Cuba.

In the opinion of a Cuban Protestant leader and in my opinion, the glass of such freedom in Cuba is more than half full.

Therefore, there is no basis whatsoever  for the U.S. government or her citizens to castigate Cuban religious institutions or leaders or members. As Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees when they asked him if they should stone a woman who had committed adultery, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” All of the questioners then silently departed without throwing any stones. (John 8: 3-11.)

I, therefore,  am glad that this U.S. government report does not designate Cuba as a “Country of Particular Concern,i.e., a country which has “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” or the ” systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as torture, degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.” There is no basis for any such designation, in my opinion.


[1] Prior posts examined the State Department’s reports on Cuban religious freedom for 2010 and 2011.

Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero?

Oscar Romero
Oscar Romero

 

Today at a private audience in the Vatican Pope Francis heard a plea for the Roman Catholic Church’s beatification[1] of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. The petitioner was Mauricio Funes, the President of El Salvador.[2]

President Funes & Pope Francis
President Funes &            Pope Francis 

 

Funes  gave the Pope a reliquary containing a piece of the bloodstained garment Msgr. Romero was wearing when he was assassinated on March 24, 1980. Created by the Sisters of the Hospital of Devine Providence, whose adjacent chapel was the site of the assassination, the reliquary monstrance (vessel for display of a relic) is in the shape of a cross with the arms depicting stylized human figures representing the participation of the people of God in the death of the Archbishop. (It is shown in the above photo.)

President Funes also told the Pope that Funes had been a pupil of Father RutilioGrande, whose assassination in 1977 had inspired Romero. The Pope apparently responded that Grande should also be beatified because of his love for the poor and for his persecution.

Afterwards President Funes met with the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.

The Vatican’s subsequent press release said that the Pope had expressed “satisfaction . . .  for the good relations between the Holy See and the nation of El Salvador. In particular, Servant of God Archbishop Oscar Amulfo Romero y Galdamez of San Salvador was spoken of and the importance of his witness for the entire nation.”

As a Christian of the Protestant and Presbyterian persuasion, my church does not have official saints. However, I regard Romero as my saint as he already is the saint of the Salvadoran people. My many posts about Romero discuss my belated discovery of him on my first trip to El Salvador in 1989, his powerful, courageous resistance to the many human rights abuses of the Salvadoran government and military, his assassination and funeral, the cases about his assassination in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and U.S. federal court and remembering him in music, film, art and books and at Westminster Abbey in London.

I also have developed a great respect for Father Rutilio Grande. I attended his memorial mass in 2003 not far from where he was assassinated on a country road and reviewed that memorable occasion in a post.


[1]  As I understand, beatification is a recognition accorded by the Roman Catholic Church of a dead person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name. Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process of becoming a saint. A person who is beatifiedis given the title “Blessed” in English.

[2] This post is based upon articles in the Washington Post, Diario Latino, LaPagina and SuperMartyrio, the last of which is a blog devoted to following the process of Romero’s becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latest U.S. Reports on International Religious Freedom

Annually the U.S. Department of State, pursuant to statutory authorization, releases a report on the status of religious freedom in every country in the world.[1] In addition, the quasi-independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom releases annual reports on the same subject for selected countries.[2]

It should be noted at the outset that these two agencies are not seeking to impose on the rest of the world the U.S. constitutional prohibition of the “establishment of religion” or of “abridging the free exercise [of religion].” [3] Instead the agencies reports rely upon this definition of the freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Similar provisions are found in several multilateral human rights treaties.[4]

The post will review the latest State Department report on this subject for all 194 other countries in the world and the Commission’s latest report on 29 countries plus one large region (Western Europe).[5]

Latest State Department Report

USDeptStateseal

After emphasizing the importance of religious freedom, the State Department’s May 20, 2013, report “tells stories of courage and conviction, but also recounts violence, restriction, and abuse. While many nations uphold, respect, and protect religious freedom, regrettably, in many other nations, governments do not protect this basic right; subject members of religious minorities to violence; actively restrict citizens’ religious freedom through oppressive laws and regulations; stand by while members of societal groups attack their fellow citizens out of religious hatred, and fail to hold those responsible for such violence accountable for their actions.”

The report continues.”The immediate challenge is to protect members of religious minorities. The ongoing challenge is to address the root causes that lead to limits on religious freedom. These causes include impunity for violations of religious freedom and an absence of the rule of law, or uneven enforcement of existing laws; introduction of laws restricting religious freedom; societal intolerance, including anti-Semitism and lack of respect for religious diversity; and perceptions that national security and stability are best maintained by placing restrictions on and abusing religious freedom.”

Highlighted for concern by the report were “[l]aws and policies that impede the freedom of individuals to choose a faith, practice a faith, change their religion, tell others about their religious beliefs and practices, or reject religion altogether remain pervasive. Numerous governments imposed such undue and inappropriate restrictions on religious groups and abused their members, in some cases as part of formal government law and practice.” Another concern was the “use of blasphemy and apostasy laws.” They “continued to be a significant problem, as was the continued proliferation of such laws around the world. Such laws often violate freedoms of religion and expression and often are applied in a discriminatory manner.”

The report documented “a continued global increase in anti-Semitism. Holocaust denial and glorification remained troubling themes, and opposition to Israeli policy at times was used to promote or justify blatant anti-Semitism. When political leaders condoned anti-Semitism, it set the tone for its persistence and growth in countries around the world. Of great concern were expressions of anti-Semitism by government officials, by religious leaders, and by the media.”

According to the report, “Governments that repress freedom of religion and freedom of expression typically create a climate of intolerance and impunity that emboldens those who foment hatred and violence within society. Government policy that denies citizens the freedom to discuss, debate, practice, and pass on their faith as they see fit also undercuts society’s ability to counter and combat the biased and warped interpretations of religion that violent extremists propagate. Societal intolerance increased in many regions during 2012.”

Finally the report said, “Governments exacerbated religious tensions within society through discriminatory laws and rhetoric, fomenting violence, fostering a climate of impunity, and failing to ensure the rule of law. In several instances of communal attacks on members of religious minorities and their property, police reportedly arrested the victims of such attacks, and NGOs alleged that there were instances in which police protected the attackers rather than the victims. As a result, government officials were not the only ones to commit abuses with impunity. Impunity for actions committed by individuals and groups within society was often a corollary of government impunity.”

The report also acknowledged the Department’s statutory obligation to designate “Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs), i.e., those countries that are considered to commit “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” and whose records call for the U.S. government to take certain actions under the terms of the Act. The term ‘‘particularly severe violations of religious freedom’’ means systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as: (a) torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; (b) prolonged detention without charges; (c) causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or (d) other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.”

Accordingly the report re-designated the following eight countries as CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.[6]

Latest Commission Report

USCommRelFree

 

Under the authorizing statute, the Commission is required to designate as “countries of particular concern” (CPC) (or “Tier 1 Countries”) those that have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom.

In its latest report, issued on April 30, 2013, the following 15 countries were so designated: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Ubekistan (all of which had been designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) by the State Department the prior year) plus Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

The Commission also designates some countries as “Tier 2 Countries,” i.e., countries on the threshold of Tier 1 status, i.e., when their “violations . . . are particularly severe” and when at least one, but not all three, of the criteria for that status (“systematic, ongoing and egregious”) is met.

The latest report designated the following eight countries as Tier 2: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia.[7]

The latest report also discussed six other countries (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ethiopia, Turkey and Venezuela and one region (Western Europe) that it monitored during the year. At first glance the monitoring of Western Europe seems anomalous, but here are the topics of concern to the Commission:

  • Restrictions on religious dress (full-face veils) in France and Belgium.
  • Failure in Sweden, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Poland, Norway and Iceland to exempt religious slaughter of animals from laws requiring prior stunning of the animals.
  • Suggestions in Germany and Norway that religious circumcisions of male children were illegal.
  • Restrictions on construction of Islamic minarets in Switzerland, and the lack of an official mosque in Athens, Greece.
  • “Incitement to hatred” and other laws in almost all European states that can be used to restrict expression of religious beliefs.
  • Reluctance in many European states to provide accommodation of religious objections to generally applicable laws.
  • Measures in France, Austria, Belgium and Germany against religious groups perjoratively characterized as “cults” or “sects.”
  • Societal intolerance, discrimination and violence based on religion or belief such as towards Muslim women with full-face veils, Jewish people and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It should also be noted that the Commission sometimes takes an adversarial position vis-à-vis the U.S. State Department. For example, on April 30, 2013, when the Commission released its latest report, its simultaneous press release recommended that the Department designate as “Countries of Particular Concern” the seven additional countries the Commission had placed in Tier 1 as noted above.

When the Department failed to do so in its May 20th report, the next day the Commission issued a press release criticizing the Department for failure to make additional CPC designations since August 2011 and to do so for the same seven additional countries.

Conclusion

Because of my personal interest in Cuba, including its religious freedom, a subsequent post will compare and contrast the two reports regarding that country.

Such a comparison, in my opinion, will show that the State Department’s reports are more balanced and fair at least with respect to Cuba.


[2]  Id. § § 202, 205. The fascinating structure and composition of the Commission will be the subject of a future post.

[3]  U.S. Const., First Amend.

[5] A prior post examined the prior State Department report.

[6] The State Department report noted that it considers the recommendations of the Commission on CPCs, but that the Secretary of State makes the final decision on that issue. The Department’s report thereby implicitly rejected the Commission’s recommendation for an additional seven countries to be so designated.

[7] Previously the Commission called this group the “Watch List of countries where the serious violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments do not meet the CPC threshold, but require close monitoring.” According to the Commission, the “Watch List provides advance warning of negative trends that could develop into severe violations of religious freedom, thereby providing policymakers with the opportunity to engage early and increasing the likelihood of preventing or diminishing the violations.”

 

President Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

President Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln
Governor Alexander Ramsey
Governor Alexander Ramsey
Edwin Stanton
Edwin Stanton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On August 21, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln learned about the start four days earlier of the U.S.-Dakota War in southern Minnesota. This was the news in a telegram from Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey to U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. It said, “The Sioux [Dakota] Indians on our western border have risen, and are murdering men, women, and children.” [1]

Another telegram came from Governor Ramsey four days later (August 25th). He said the War was worsening, and the “panic among the people has depopulated whole counties.” As a result, Ramsey requested an extension of the deadline for a U.S. draft of an additional 5,360 men for the Civil War.

This was not good news for Lincoln and his Administration. The Civil War was not going well for the North, which desperately needed more troops. Indeed, earlier that month the President had ordered the call up of 300,000 additional men. Although Minnesota’s quota of 5,360 was not large, such an extension could set a dangerous precedent for other states and thus the Union Army. In addition, the Administration needed the troops because of fear that the Confederate states were attempting to enlist Indians in the northwest as allies.

Therefore, Secretary Stanton denied Ramsey’s request, prompting the latter’s August 27th direct request to Lincoln for a month’s extension to cope with half of the state’s population being “refugees.” This time Lincoln responded the same day to Ramsey. Lincoln’s telegram said, “Attend to the Indians. If the draft can not proceed, of course, it will not proceed. Necessity knows no law. The government cannot extend the time.” (Emphases in original.) In other words, a de facto extension was granted.

General John Pope
General John Pope

In addition, on September 5th the Administration granted another Ramsey request, this one to create a new military Department of the Northwest. Its commander appointed that day by Lincoln was General John Pope, who had just suffered defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas) and whom Lincoln wanted out of the Civil War.

Pope arrived in Minnesota on September 16th and immediately wired his superior in Washington, D.C. that there would be a loss of half the population of Minnesota and Wisconsin and “a general Indian war all along the frontier, unless immediate steps are taken to put a stop to it.”

Colonel Henry H. Sibley
Colonel Henry H. Sibley

Therefore, General Pope ordered Colonel Henry Hastings Sibley to destroy Indian farms and food. Pope said, “It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux [Dakota] if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.” (Emphasis added.)[2]

By the end of September, however, the U.S.-Dakota war was over with the surrender of many Dakota to the U.S. Army and the escape of the other Indians to the west. Military commissions were then established to try the captured Dakota men. These commission proceedings and President Lincoln’s review of its judgments will be subjects of future posts.

Another important issue was weighing on President Lincoln at this time was preparing the Emancipation Proclamation and deciding when to release it.

He did so in a preliminary version on September 22nd that declared he would order the emancipation of all slaves in any state of the Confederate States of America which had not returned to Union control by January 1, 1863. None returned.

Emancipation Proclamation
Emancipation Proclamation

Thus, the actual Proclamation, which was issued on January 1, 1863, proclaimed all those enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free, and ordered the U.S. Army (and all segments of the Executive branch) to treat as free all those enslaved in that territory.


[1]  A prior post contained a brief account of the War. This post is based upon Chapter VII “Rebellion in Minnesota: ‘A Most Terrible and Exciting Indian War,'” in David A. Nichols, Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics (Minn. Historical Soc’y Press; 1978, 2000, 2012). This enjoyable book is regarded as the definitive study of President Lincoln’s policies and actions regarding Native Americans, and a future post will rely upon its discussion of President Lincoln’s review of the U.S. military commission’s convictions and sentences of Dakota men after the War.

[2] General Pope’s statement along with a similar statement at the time by Governor Ramsey raise interesting legal issues that will be discussed in another post.