By Patrick McArdle
BENNINGTON – The Vermont Legislature is asking the government of Turkey to end religious discrimination against the Orthodox Christian Church, Sen. Richard Sears said Thursday.
“The General Assembly strongly urges the Republic of Turkey to recognize the right to religious freedom for all its residents and to end all discriminatory policies directed against the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church,” the resolution said.
The secretary of state has been directed to send a copy of the resolution to Turkey’s embassy in Washington, D.C.
“I know some people will criticize and say, ‘What has Vermont got to do with this issue?’ but I think we were founded on the principles of religious freedom and I think it’s important for us to uphold them as much as we can throughout the world,” Sears said.
According to Sears, Vermont is now one of more than half the states in America to have passed a resolution urging Turkey to reconsider its position on the Orthodox Christian Church, especially as it looks for membership in the European Union.
Sears and Sen. Robert Hartwell, both Bennington Democrats, along with Democratic Rep. William Botzow of Pownal, presented optometrist Dr. Alexander Tenentes with a copy of the resolution at Tenentes’ North Street office on Thursday.
“You’ve brought a really important set of issues to us, Alex. I really feel strongly about having worked on this resolution and co-sponsored it because I think if we all were more conscious of the issues and principles we’ve talked about here, we would have an easier and safer world than we do,” Hartwell said.
Sears said Tenentes had approached him in December about writing the resolution and recommended that Sears watch a report aired on the CBS news show “Sixty Minutes” about religious persecution in Turkey.
Turkey’s population is almost entirely Muslim but it is also home to the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, “His All Holiness, Bartholomew, archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, Ecumenical Patriarch,” according to the “Sixty Minutes” report.
The Vermont Senate Joint Resolution said that the government of Turkey had “repeatedly and illegally adopted repressive discriminatory policies” against the church, whose members include the Greek Orthodox Church, such as laws that forbid the church from owning property, requirements that the church’s leaders be Turkish citizens and the closure of a theological school.
Sears said he was “shocked” by what he saw in the news report and what he learned from Tenentes.
Sears and Hartwell introduced the resolution in February. By April, it had been adopted but the legislators thought that members of the Vermont House of Representatives should do so as well. Sears said he spoke to Democratic Rep. Timothy Corcoran II of Bennington, and Botzow, who agreed to bring it to the Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
Botzow, who is the committee’s chairman, said he was pleased to be able to take the work Sears and Hartwell did in the Senate and shepherd it through the House.
Tenentes said he was grateful that his state representatives in the Legislature were so responsive to the concerns of their constituents.