The Pope traveled to Turkey Friday morning for a long-awaited three-day visit for meetings with religious and political authorities. But upon arriving at the presidential palace in Ankara, the Pope came out swinging, immediately focusing on Turkey’s soft underbelly: religious freedom.
“Fanaticism and fundamentalism,” the Pope said, “as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers.” The first “pillar” undergirding this solidarity, the Pope said, is “respect for human life and for religious freedom, that is the freedom to worship and to live according to the moral teachings of one’s religion.”
As Breitbart reported in September, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom sent up a red flag regarding Turkey’s record of religious freedom in its most recent report, demoting Turkey to “Tier 2” (the former “Watch List”).
The report states:
The overall landscape for democracy and human rights has deteriorated significantly during the past year, including serious new restrictions on internet freedom, privacy, and media freedom, with troubling implications for freedom of religion or belief in Turkey. Based on these concerns, USCIRF places Turkey on Tier 2 in 2014.
According to the report, the ten countries placed on Tier 2 are characterized by serious violations of religious freedom “perpetrated or tolerated by the government.”
Earlier this fall, Turkey was the only NATO country that refrained from joining the U.S.-led coalition confronting ISIS. As reported in The Economist, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “wants to replace Ataturk’s republic with Islamist rule.”
In his visit to Turkey in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI likewise campaigned for religious liberty. “Freedom of religion,” Benedict said, “institutionally guaranteed and effectively respected in practice, both for individuals and communities, constitutes for all believers the necessary condition for their loyal contribution to the building up of society.”
Friday, Francis told the Turks that a lasting peace is “founded on respect for the fundamental rights and duties rooted in the dignity of each person,” and said it is “essential that all citizens – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties.”
“Freedom of religion and freedom of expression,” Francis said, “when truly guaranteed to each person, will help friendship to flourish and thus become an eloquent sign of peace.”
Thomas D. Williams can be followed on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome