Religious freedom festival in Haiti highlights peaceful coexistence

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Religious freedom festival in Haiti highlights peaceful coexistence

From left: John Graz, secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association; Elie Henry, executive secretary of the church’s Inter-American Division; and Theart St. Pierre, president of the Haitian Union Mission at Haiti’s first festival of religious freedom. The IRLA regularly sponsors festivals worldwide to thank government leaders for preserving freedom of belief. [photo courtesy IRLA]

Advocates recommend National Day of Religious Freedom in country

March 06, 2014 | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | ANN staff

A festival of religious freedom in Haiti last month cements the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a leading proponent of free expression of belief in the country.

Organized by the church’s Haitian Union Mission and sponsored by the International Religious Liberty Association, the event drew more than 3,000 supporters to Port-au-Prince to celebrate freedom of belief and help raise the profile of religious liberty in the Caribbean. 

The city of Port-au-Prince is still recovering from a devastating earthquake that in 2010 dealt $7.8 billion in damage to a nation already considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Two hurricanes in 2012 complicated rebuilding efforts. 

“The people of Haiti have shown great courage and an extraordinary capacity for survival. Religious freedom is a right that Haitians treasure, and are determined to keep,” said John Graz, IRLA secretary-general.

The festival was part of the first Congress of Religious Freedom in Haiti. Hundreds of lawyers, human rights activists, government leaders and faith representatives joined in two days of lectures and workshops that highlighted the largely peaceful coexistence of religious groups in Haiti and resulted in several recommendations.

The group pledged to organize the Haitian chapter of the International Religious Liberty Association and negotiate with the Haitian government to establish a National Day of Religious Freedom in the country.

Other recommendations:

  • The Congress calls on government to preserve separation of church and state.
  • The Congress condemns every act of intolerance, discrimination and violence directed in the past against individuals or groups because of their religion or belief.
  • The Congress expresses solidarity with all groups and individuals who are victims of violations of religious freedom worldwide.

Marie Carmelle Rose Ann Auguste, Minister of Human Rights for the Haitian government, called religious liberty an “essential” human right during her remarks.

“It is through the free exercise of conscience that the individual soul and the soul of the nation is strengthened,” she said.

Francois Clavairoly, president of the French Protestant Federation, and a group of faith leaders from Paris brought an “international dimension” to the event, Graz said. Haiti is the only predominantly French-speaking independent nation in the Americas. 

Other Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church, Salvation Army and syncretic religions were also represented. Syncretic religions such as Voodoo are widely practiced in Haiti.

Another festival of religious freedom is planned for Port-au-Prince in 2015.

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