Religious Freedom and the New Millennium

Dr. Michael Mickler

Three years ago Reverend Moon initiated a series of sisterhood ceremonies between women from Japan and United States to mark the 50th anniversary of the cessation of WWII hostilities. A dramatic "bridge-crossing was the centerpiece of these events. This year, Reverend Moon has inaugurated a series of conferences on "Religious Freedom and the New Millennium" to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, in particular, Article 18 which guarantees "freedom of thought conscience and religion." The first of these was held April 17-19th in Washington D.C. with subsequent conferences in Tokyo, Japan, May 23-25th and Berlin, Germany, May 29-31st. It is anticipated that conferences will be held in Latin America and Africa.

The premise of the conferences, jointly sponsored by the International Coalition for Religious Freedom (ICRF) and the Washington Times Foundation, is that the post-cold war era has witnessed a downward "slide" in religious liberty. This has been due in part to more exposure and interaction among faiths in our increasingly global culture and in part to political destabilization in several regions of the world. These factors have led to confusion in defining religion and a tendency to utilize exaggerated concerns about "public order" to repress minority faiths.

Plenary and committee sessions exposed the 120 participants in the Washington conference to the historical background, contemporary situation, underlying philosophy, and future prospects of religious freedom worldwide. One of the most eye-opening sessions featured continent-by-continent summaries by specialists of the most serious infringements, some of which, such as the sale of Sudanese Christians in open-air slave-markets, amount to atrocities. Dr. Leonard Swidler, Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University and editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, argued that our choices in this arena are "death or dialogue." Oscar Arias, the former President of Costa Rica (1986-90) and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner, highlighted interconnections between world peace and religious freedom and held that a Declaration of Universal Human Obligations must complement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

UTS graduates played an important role in the Washington Conference. Dan Fefferman ('86), Director of ICRF and editor of its International Religious Freedom Report, organized the event and served as the overall moderator. In this, he was ably assisted by Susan Fefferman ('86). Drs. Frank Kaufman ('79) and Thomas Walsh ('79) served as committee moderators and Larry Witham ('78), Religion Editor of the Washington Times, delivered a paper. Alex Colvin ('87) who manages ICRF's important web site ( and I served as committee rapporteurs. Former UTS President David S.C. Kim and Mrs. Kim were welcome attendees as was Dr. Lloyd Eby. Published proceedings will be forthcoming.