WASHINGTON, DC – The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) worked closely with the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Congressman Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL), on legislation the co-chairs introduced May 7 that promotes religious freedom in Turkey and calls out Turkey’s violations of the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and religious minorities.
AHI successfully advocated for key provisions to be included in the Turkey and Ecumenical Patriarchate Religious Freedom Act of 2021 that will utilize existing U.S. law, the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), to effectuate change.
According to AHI President Nick Larigakis, as a result, the legislation, which will be a bill instead of non-binding resolution, will include enforcement clauses intended to advance religious freedom in Turkey. AHI highlighted how IRFA can be used to hold Turkey accountable for its religious freedom violations in its publicly released policy statements.
The Turkey and Ecumenical Patriarchate Religious Freedom Act of 2021 includes the following measures:
Encouraging the Administration to put Turkey on the “Special Watch List,” a designation that indicates that a country tolerates significant violations of religious freedom. This would be an important step in holding Turkey accountable, and in line with the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommendation to include Turkey on the Special Watch List.
Mandating that the President of the United States, should the Administration fail to include Turkey on the Special Watch list, submit a report to Congress justifying its decision to not include Turkey on the watch list.
Within 90 days of the passage of the Act, the Secretary of State will be required to submit a report to Congress on the State Department’s policy and planned efforts to promote religious freedom in Turkey.
“We commend Congresswoman Maloney for her decades-long commitment to safeguarding the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and in the wake of the conversion of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque, it is right and necessary to have a strong and bipartisan response from Congress,” AHI President Larigakis said. “This legislation meets this need. In addition, I thank the staff of Congresswoman Maloney as well as our director of Legislative Affairs, Elias Gerasoulis, for their contributions to produce a strong, bipartisan bill.”