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US bishops welcome Iraq religious freedom assurance

The US Bishops have applauded moves by US head of mission in Iraq Ambassador Paul Bremer to recognise "the importance of ensuring that religious liberty is fully respected in the new Iraq".

Bishop John Ricard issued a statement this week as chairman of the US Bishops' International Policy Committee.

He said: "The success of efforts to build a democratic, pluralistic and prosperous Iraq will depend on respecting the fact that Islam is the religion of the majority of Iraqis, while ensuring that full religious freedom for all, including minorities, is fully guaranteed.

"If Islam is the official religion of the state, however, or, if Islam is the source for secular laws, as some propose, the religious freedom of minorities could be seriously circumscribed," he said.

Bishop Ricard stressed that religious freedom cannot be limited to the right to worship, but it must apply to religious bodies, such as the Shia, the Sunni and the Chaldean or Assyrian rites, and to individuals.

He said: "If the law grants only group rights, it could open the possibility that the rights of individuals could be suppressed based on their religious beliefs or practices."

"Full religious freedom for all people and all religious bodies in Iraq would contribute to stability and help avoid sectarian conflict," he added.

Bishop Ricard cited as an example the humanitarian and development work of the Catholic Church in Basra and Catholic Relief Services and their efforts to promote interfaith and even intra-Muslim cooperation.

Bishop Ricard Says Success in Iraq Includes Ensuring that Religious Liberty Is Fully Respected (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Bishop Says Success in Iraq Includes Religious Liberty (Zenit 23/2/04)

25 Feb 2004