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300 Clerics Demand Meeting with Reagan to Express Concern over U.S. Human Rights Policy

February 18, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Two hundred additional religious leaders have joined in a human rights appeal to President Reagan and have joined with the 100 original signers in demanding a meeting with the President to express their concern over the U.S. policy on human rights.

The initial appeal sent last Dec. 17 was answered by Richard Allen, who is now the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, with a brief note thanking the group for keeping the then President-elect informed of their concerns.

But Sister Blaise Lupo, a Maryknoll nun and co-director of Clergy and Laity Concerned which is coordinating the effort, said Allen’s reply “was tantamount to a dismissal of the moral concerns of religious leaders who represent the broadest range of political persuasion in the religious community. It further ignores the significant constituency whose concerns the signers represent. I don’t know of any other issue on which such leadership has been so united.”

The signers of the letter to Reagan include the president or chief executive officer of nearly every major religious body in the United States, according to the coordinators. Among the 200 new signers are Dr. Bailey Smith, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Rabbi Jerome Malind, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.


The letter, in which the group requested a meeting with Reagan noted that since the open letter was sent in December, “many more violations of human rights have occurred, especially in El Salvador. Many of these might have been averted had you spoken out as the signers requested.”

The religious leaders told Reagan that “we oppose human rights violations wherever they occur, whether in Communist, capitalist, socialist or mixed-economy countries. We are strongly concerned about human rights in Afghanistan and Cambodia, and about religious liberty in the Soviet Union. In this statement, however, we are particularly concerned about nations where the United States has extensive economic, political and military involvement. This gives us influence whether we want it or not, and therefore, a greater responsibility. They are also nations where your (Reagan) own position in human rights is already being assessed with great interest.”


Meanwhile, the Workmen’s Circle, the national Jewish labor fraternal organization, has urged Reagan to withdraw the name of Ernest Lefever as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. In a letter to the President, Israel Kluger, Workmen’s Circle president, and Nathan Peskin, its executive director, noted that Lefever has opposed American human rights policies.

“To caricature American foreign policy by installing a person who sneers at our concern for human rights is hardly demonstrating that our anti-totalitarian concerns are genuine, ” they said. “We cannot, on one hand, rightfully condemn Soviet abuses and, on the other, cover up similar abuses in other nations no matter how strategically friendly.”

The Workmen’s Circle leaders added: “Haven’t we learned the lessons of Auschwitz, Dachau, the Soviet Gulags, the Latin American dungeons and of all of the infamous tortures totalitarians design to crush democratic opposition?” They said “this is no moment in history to permit the luxury of waiting” for Lefever to learn this lesson.

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