Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, and support for the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarch is no exception. I have made it clear that the Turkish government must stop interfering in the affairs of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Turkish requirement that only Turkish citizens can be selected as the Ecumenical Patriarch is unacceptable. In March 2011, I joined with House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen and several of my colleagues in a letter to the President to press Turkey on a number of issues in support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The letter stresses that the United States should push Turkey to cease its interference in the process of selecting Ecumenical Patriarchs and to drop the requirement that the Patriarch be a Turkish citizen. Turkey must also reopen the Halki Theological School to allow the Church to train future generations of Orthodox clerics. The Turkish government should grant the Ecumenical Patriarchate the legal status that would allow it to own property, employ church officials, and manage church finances. On July 21, 2011, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved an amendment urging Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage. The amendment was based on H.Res. 306, "Urging the Republic of Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage and to return confiscated church properties," which was introduced by Congressman Ed Royce, myself, and others this session of Congress.
The amendment specifically urges the government of Turkey to honor its obligation under international treaties and human rights law to end all forms of religious discrimination. The amendment calls for Turkey
to allow the rightful owners of Christian church properties to freely organize and administer prayer services, religious education, clerical training, appointments, and succession, religious community gatherings, social services, and other religious activities -- without hindrance or restriction by the state. Additionally, the amendment calls on Turkey to return to their rightful owners all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties. In April 2011, I joined with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and others by cosponsoring H.Res.180, "Urging Turkey to respect the rights and religious freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarchate." The resolution calls upon Turkey to eliminate discrimination based on race or religion, and grant the Ecumenical Patriarch appropriate international recognition and ecclesiastic succession. I believe that the full restoration of basic religious freedoms and human rights for the Ecumenical Patriarchate will benefit all Orthodox Christians. By promoting tolerance, peace, and stability in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean regions, this restoration would also serve the national interests of the United States, Greece and Turkey as well. Restoring the Patriarch's rights will speak to the rights of oppressed religious minorities worldwide.