ECIT’s 9/11/00 letter to the The U.S.

ECIT’s 9/11/00 letter to the The U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom
by David Gray, PhD

The Educational Council on Indic Traditions
53 White Oak Drive
Princeton, NJ 08540.

September 11th, 2000

Mr. Elliott Abrams, Chairman
Mr. Steve McFarland, Executive Director
Mr. Peter Wycoff
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
800, North Capitol Street, N.W., Suite 790
Washington, DC 20002.
Telephone: 202 523 3240. Fax: 202 523 5020

Dear Sirs,

This is a follow up to a phone conversation with Mr. Wycoff last week. The Educational Council on Indic Traditions is a non-profit organization based in Princeton, New Jersey, consisting of educators and scholars concerned about fairness of religious portrayal in education and media, especially as it relates to the Indic traditions.

We have learnt that The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom will be holding a public hearing on September 18, 2000 on religious freedom in India, Pakistan and Kashmir. Based on our understanding of this event, we are interested in participating because Indic traditions’ relationship with the world is the special focus for us. Attached is an overview of our position paper on the subject of religious freedom without reference to any specific religion or country, and we request that you include it in your records for the hearing. We would also like a chance to discuss our ideas on how a debate on the ‘meaning’ of religious freedom could be the first step towards harmony. There is a need to step back and develop a broad framework first.

Regarding this specific hearing, we understand that while two scholars will represent the academic view, the religions’ own views will be represented only by two spokespersons from Islam and one from Christianity. One wonders why there is no Kashmiri Hindu religious representative to describe the ethnic cleansing suffered by them, nor any Hindu leader who would represent their members. As an educational foundation, we are unable to supply a specialist from India on this matter. However, we can make a contribution with regard to the general principles involved.

Looking forward to a chance to meet you for further discussions.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. David Gray,
Executive Director

Developing Standards for Religious Freedom

Proposed by
The Educational Council on Indic Traditions, Princeton, NJ

Organized religion must be accepted as a field of competing worldviews, with implications to economic and political interests. Hence, rules of fair competition must be developed as in other endeavors. Globalization makes it imperative to have an open and free religious environment, in which individuals can choose, experiment with alternatives, and change their religious path as often as they want. There must naturally exist certain ethics of evangelizing or ‘marketing’ religion. A level playing field in terms of such responsibility would raise standards of religious promotion and reduce social tensions, which often arise from uncontrolled or unethical competition. Every marketing company, despite its firm belief that it has the ‘best’ or even only ‘true’ product, must comply with norms of fair competition. We propose that religious organizations must be required to comply with appropriate rules of fair competition.

A good starting point is the US Federal Trade Commission’s standards for telemarketing and mail order selling, especially rules pertaining to poor and other disadvantaged persons. While marketers argue in favor of their freedom to sell and advertise, and for the public’s right to choose freely (even unwisely), the FTC has enacted laws balancing this freedom with protection from exploitation of the poor and uninformed. In the practices of certain missionaries in poor parts of the world, abuses have taken place with terrible social consequences, and similar standards of fair marketing should apply. A consumer’s entrapment into a religious conversion could be worse than getting duped into a sales scam. Also, the rewards of political and economic power eschewed by zealots of religious conversion are often greater than the financial rewards of marketing scams. Should religions be exempt from norms of honesty and fairness? We propose a debate on the following to facilitate creating a level playing field of ethical safeguards and human rights:

Freedom verses Hate Speech: Should evangelical denigration of a community as ‘condemned’, ‘sinners’, ‘pagans’, or ‘heathen’, be deemed as ‘hate speech’, which is unlawful in many places? Which freedom is more important – freedom ‘from’ hatred, or freedom ‘to’ hate? Should the quid pro quo for having religious freedom be respect for others’ religions?

Fair Competition: The FTC considers it unlawful to trash one’s competitor unreasonably or falsely. Should false portrayals of another’s religion be disallowed, even if done in the name of God’s work? For example, criticisms that are true only for a small percentage of followers of a religion, or only one denomination of it, are often used to denounce the entire religion.

Proselytizing verses Consumer Protection: It is unlawful for commercial marketers to ‘promise’ results that are untested or unproven. Likewise, should evangelists have disclosure requirements on the basis for their claims? Should consumers have the right to litigate when there is fraud, duress or false representation? What is the definition of ‘voluntary’ conversion as opposed to intimidation or financially based entrapment? In the sales pitch of many evangelists, if one replaces ‘God’s love’ with a commercial telemarketing product, such a sales pitch often compares with those that are considered fraud and prosecuted by the FTC. Transparency of process should not get compromised in the drive for market share by an aggressive religion.

Holy Wars: No government, religion, organization or person should endorse, support even in principle, promote, preach, or facilitate any violence of any kind in the name of religion against anyone whatsoever. Every government should fully prosecute all such activities to the fullest extent possible.

Separation between Religion and State: This sacred principle of the United States should be reflected in its policy, by denouncing ‘official’ or ‘state’ religions, or any preferential treatment to the majority religion of a country. This would include interest rates, job or commercial opportunities, public laws, holidays, education and other rights. No prejudices based on gender or religion should exist in the laws of any nation.

Some important quotes from Mahatma Gandhi on Missionaries in India

“I disbelieve in the conversion of one person by another. My effort should never to be to undermine another’s faith. This implies belief in the truth of all religions and, therefore, respect for them. It implies true humility.” (Young India: April 23, 1931)

“I believe that there is no such thing as conversion from one faith to another in the accepted sense of the word. It is a highly personal matter for the individual and his God. I may not have any design upon my neighbor as to his faith, which I must honor even as I honor my own. Having reverently studied the scriptures of the world I could no more think of asking a Christian or a Musalman, or a Parsi or a Jew to change his faith than I would think of changing my own.” (Harijan: September 9, 1935)

“I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and that whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be that a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.” (Young India: January 19, 1928)

“As I wander about throughout the length and breath of India, I see many Christian Indians almost ashamed of their birth, certainly of their ancestral religion, and of their ancestral dress. The aping of Europeans on part of Anglo-Indians is bad enough, but the aping of them by Indian converts is a violence done to their country and, shall I say, even to their new religion.” (Young India: August 8, 1925)

“It is impossible for me to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion after the style that goes on in India and elsewhere today. It is an error which is perhaps the greatest impediment to the world’s progress towards peace … Why should a Christian want to convert a Hindu to Christianity? Why should he not be satisfied if the Hindu is a good or godly man?” (Harijan: January 30, 1937)

“I am not interested in weaning you from Christianity and making you Hindu, and I do not relish your designs upon me, if you had any, to convert me to Christianity. I would also dispute your claim that Christianity is the only true religion.” (Harijan: June 3, 1937)

“I regard Jesus as a great teacher of humanity, but I do not regard him as the only begotten son of God. That epithet in its material interpretation is quite unacceptable. Metaphorically we are all sons of God, but for each of us there may be different sons of God in a special sense. Thus for me Chaitanya may be the only begotten son of God … I cannot ascribe exclusive divinity to Jesus.” (Harijan: June 3, 1937)

“I consider western Christianity in its practical working a negation of Christ’s Christianity. I cannot conceive Jesus, if he was living in flesh in our midst, approving of modern Christian organizations, public worship, or ministry.” (Young India: September 22, 1921)

“When the missionary of another religion goes to them, he goes like a vendor of goods. He has no special spiritual merit that will distinguish him from those to whom he goes. He does however possess material goods, which he promises to those who will come to his fold.” (Harijan: April 3, 1937)

“The first distinction I would like to make … between your missionary work and mine is that while I am strengthening the faith of the people, you (missionaries) are undermining it.” (Young India: November 8, 1927)

If I had the power and could legislate, I would stop all proselytizing … In Hindu households the advent of a missionary has meant the disruption of the family coming in the wake of change of dress, manners, language, food and drink …” (Harijan: November 5, 1935)

“Only the other day a missionary descended on a famine area with money in his pocket, distributed it among the famine stricken, converted them to his fold, took charge of their temple and demolished it. This is outrageous.” (Harijan: November 5, 1937)

“Conversion nowadays has become a matter of business like any other … India (Hindus) is in no need of conversion of the kind … Conversion in the sense of self-purification, self-realization, is the crying need of the times. That, however, is never what is meant by proselytizing. To those who would convert India (Hindus), might it not be said: Physician heal thyself.” (Young India: April 23, 1931)

“I hold that proselytizing under the cloak of humanitarian work is unhealthy to say the least. It is most resented by people here. Religion after all is a deeply personal thing. It touches the heart. Why should I change my religion because a doctor who professes Christianity as his religion has cured me of some disease, or why should the doctor expect such a change whilst I am under his influence?” (Young India: April 23, 1931)

“Christianity in India has been inextricably mixed up for the last one hundred and fifty years with British rule. It appears to us as synonymous with materialistic civilization and imperialistic exploitation by the stronger white races of the weaker races of the world. Its contribution to India has been therefore, largely negative.” (Young India: March 21, 1929)

Copyright – The Educational Council on Indic Traditions, 2000
All Rights Reserved