Supreme Knight Speaks at Ministerial on Religious Freedom
Carl Anderson to religious and civic leaders from 106 nations: ‘World is watching,’
Minority religious communities may be left with little hope of surviving if Iraq and other Middle East governments do not check the aggression of paramilitary forces, said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson at this week’s US Department of State Ministerial on Religious Freedom.
Presided over by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the second ministerial gathering on religious freedom included religious and civic leaders from 106 nations. It will conclude today.
“We stand at a critical juncture,” Anderson said in his address at the State Department in Washington. “If the destruction of these communities is completed, Baghdad will bear responsibility for the loss of its minorities.”
He said this is a real possibility because the government of Iraq, even after the forcible removal of ISIS from the area, seems unwilling or unable to curb frequent abuses by the paramilitary groups, many of them from Iran. The lack of action by Iraq serves to discourage Christians and other groups from returning to the towns that have been their home for millennia.
The Knights of Columbus and other private organizations, in partnership with the United States and other governments, have collectively spent millions of dollars to assist those returning to their ancestral homes, Anderson said.
However, he said, “During a visit to Iraq earlier this year, I was told repeatedly that security is the primary concern of those trying to return home after ISIS.”
Anderson praised the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Initiative, led by Pence, as “an important step forward for the United States, and we are grateful for his leadership and that of the White House, the State Department and USAID on this issue.”
The Knights signed an agreement with USAID last year to help better coordinate responses to persecution and genocide, including better information sharing.
Despite often-cumbersome regulatory barriers, Anderson explained that the public/private partnership that has been forged in the humanitarian arena in the wake of the removal of ISIS has resulted in government funding to address big-ticket infrastructure items. This allows private groups such as the Knights the flexibility to quickly carry out projects that regulations make difficult for the government.
“For instance,” said Anderson, “we have focused on rebuilding homes in the town of Karamles, one of the few success stories for returns to the portion of the Nineveh region controlled by Baghdad.”
While serving as an international model for current and future humanitarian crises, the situation in Iraq remains perilous for vulnerable minorities who now need the support and protection of their national governments, according to the leader of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.
“As this ministerial makes clear,” said Anderson, “the world is watching.”
The Knights, which includes almost 2 million members, began its advocacy in 2014 and, to date, has committed about $25 million to support persecuted communities in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region.
The Knights led the effort to have ISIS’s crimes declared a genocide by providing the State Department with a nearly 300-page report detailing the evidence and legal analysis supporting that determination. Congress passed a unanimous resolution declaring a genocide and then-Secretary of State John Kerry came to the same determination in March 2016.
Founded in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882, the Knights of Columbus began its advocacy on behalf of religious freedom in the rampant anti-Catholicism of 19th century New England.
“Our organization took religious freedom seriously around the world, speaking out on behalf of persecuted Armenian Christians a century ago,” said Anderson. “We supported Mexican Catholics persecuted by their government in the 1920s and 1930s and urged action by Presidents Coolidge and Roosevelt.”
Also in the 1930s, the Knights urged President Roosevelt to take action on behalf of Jews in Germany, and went on to work in support of those whose religious freedom was suppressed behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.
In the modern Middle East, Anderson said, the Knights of Columbus offers an example for how a private organization can serve as a mediating institution.
He explained: “We are helping to bridge gaps, clarify solutions, and bring key stakeholders together from government, the UN, NGOs and victimized communities to find strategies that work.”