Religious Freedom in Cuba

10-07-08, 9:25 am

Original source:: CubaNews
'Ecumenical institutions and current religions in Cuba enjoy the freedoms and essential constitutional guarantees for their well functioning and for achieving their goals. In addition, they enjoy the facilities, considering that, the Cuban State assures them in the midst of the material difficulties that the commercial, economic and financial blockade by the United States imposes on the people of Cuba, which violates the most basic of human rights, the right to life.'

Such is the essence of the evaluation carried out by the 'inter-religious forum for constructive dialogue and analysis of common concerns' convened by the Cuban Council of Churches, with the participation of representatives from their member institutions. They were joined by those of the Religious Institution of the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba, the Soka Gakkai Association of the Republic of Cuba, the Sephardic Hebrew Center of Cuba and the Islamic League of Cuba.

The event took place in the cathedral church of La Santísima Trinidad (Episcopal) in Havana, Cuba, on October 2, 2008.

The Cuban religious discussed the annual report relating to the 2008
Commission on International Religious Freedom by the United States' Department of State, in which Cuba is mentioned again among the countries violating religious freedom.

That commission is composed of nine people, three of them designated by the President of the United States, three by the Senate and the other three by the House of Representatives.

The U.S. governmental commission does not investigate with respect to religious freedom within the United States, where it is known that churches, religious institutions and ecumenical organizations endure restrictions on the exercise of their ties to similar groups in other parts of the world, as happens to be the case of their ties to religious organizations, churches and faithful in Cuba.

Neither does it worry about the pressures that are applied to religious institutions in order to manipulate them politically, like that it imposes upon them a federal law with more than 50 years of existence under which religious organizations that accept tax-deductible contributions cannot be involved in political affairs, under penalty of losing the right to benefit from tax exemption, something that constitutes a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution, so called to guarantee, among others, the freedoms of religion and expression.

In statements made during the presentation of the Commission report, the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, criticized the practice of defaming religions, 'but ignored the repeated slanderous statements against the Cuban Council of Churches and its member institutions, that were made in the Reports of the so-called Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba – driven by President Bush – which are contained, curiously with the same enunciation, in the report from the 'independent' Commission on International Religious Freedom.'

Cuban religious organizations accuse the United States' government, as well as the Commission, of seeking 'to denigrate and to discredit the Cuban Council of Churches and its member institutions, especially the historical Cuban churches, such as the Religious Institution of the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba in order to weaken Cuban society.'

The Cuban faithful pronounced themselves against the actions of the Secretary of the Treasury for authorizing licenses to North American religious to travel to Cuba, as well as the visas that the Secretary of State grants Cuban religious to travel to the United States, 'since they are not for facilitating the interchange between churches and religious and ecumenical institutions in United States and in Cuba, but to prevent or to restrict travel and to control and to decide who can travel and who cannot, which, in addition to being a violation of the rights of the North American citizens, are an offense to the traditional fraternal relations between our people and religious organizations.'

The declaration of the Antillean faithful notes that the US commission, when criticizing as a limitation on religious freedom, the legal duty of Cuban religious institutions to register with the government – which has been a legal practice in Cuba since 1888 – obviates that in the United States, churches, religious and ecumenical institutions must be recognized as corporations, through cumbersome requirements, in order to be able to have legal representation and to benefit from the rights that the law grants them.

As a sample of ignorance, they discount the Cuban faithful with the
accusation that the government of the island only allows a religious wedding if a civil wedding precedes it, when the churches are precisely those that demanded it since the beginning of the twentieth century, when only civil marriage was recognized as legally valid in Cuba.

--A CubaNews translation by Sue Greene. Edited by Walter Lippmann.