Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
03/29/2010 01:30 PM JUDICIARY
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SJR 28-ECUMENICAL PATRIARCHATE OF TURKEY 2:34:03 PM CHAIR FRENCH announced the consideration of SJR 28. SENATOR KEVIN MEYER, Sponsor of SJR 28, related that a friend who is active in the Greek Orthodox Church in Anchorage brought the issue of religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey to his attention. To date, 25 state legislatures have adopted resolutions similar to SJR 28, which is half way to the goal. SENATOR MEYER explained that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Turkey is the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians in the world just as the Pope in Rome is the spiritual leader of Roman Catholics worldwide. Unfortunately, the government of Turkey has been intolerant of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It has seized church property, closed their school, and prevented the Orthodox Christian Church from selecting eligible bishops by requiring them to have Turkish citizenship. SJR 28 urges the U.S., the European Union, and the United Nations to encourage the government of Turkey to end its discrimination and pledge to uphold and safeguard religious rights without compromise. SENATOR MEYER related that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the spiritual home to about six million Orthodox Christians in the U.S. and about 300 million worldwide. Alaskan Orthodox Christians have a strong relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate through their Russian Orthodox bishops who arrived here in 1794. There are about 95 Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska and about 20,000 members. The Anchorage Greek Orthodox Church was established in 1958 and now has 200 members. 2:37:00 PM VERY REVEREND ARCHPRIEST MICHAEL JAMES OLEKSA, Pastor, St. Alexis Orthodox Church in Anchorage and Chancellor of the Orthodox Diocese of Alaska - a diocese of the Territorial Church of North America, which is comprised of churches in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, explained that the Orthodox faith is the oldest Christian tradition in the world and the oldest in Alaska having arrived here from Russia after 1741. The oldest parish in Alaska dates from 1784 and the first clergy arrived from Finland in 1794. The Orthodox Church has eight Alaskan saints and it recognizes Alaska as the most Orthodox-affiliated state in the nation with nearly 100 parishes and 50 clergy. 43 of its clergy are Native Alaskans so it is also the largest Native Alaskan religious organization in the state. REVERAND OLEKSA related that the Ecumenical Patriarchate was in Istanbul over 1,100 years before the Ottoman Empire was founded. His function worldwide is to preside and convene at international gatherings of Orthodox bishops. This wasn't possible during the Cold War when most Orthodox Christians were behind the Iron Curtain and being persecuted. In fact, the Orthodox faith was persecuted with perhaps more violence than any religion in world history. The national constitution of the Soviet Union didn't require religious tolerance and the U.S. government didn't speak up. Different today is the fact that the Turkish government is applying for EU membership and is a NATO ally. As a NATO ally, the U.S. is obliged to call upon the Turkish government to honor its international treaty obligations and the religious liberties guaranteed by the Turkish Constitution. 2:41:26 PM CHAIR FRENCH said he was impressed to read that following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gathered international leaders and released the first statement signed by Muslim leaders condemning the attacks as anti- religious. REVERAND OLEKSA responded he has been instrumental in bringing people with diverse religious and world views together to discuss world problems. 2:43:13 PM FATHER LEO SCHEFE, Pastor and Priest, Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, related that he was the on-duty priest in the area where the Turkish government closed the school. He spoke with many Turkish citizens who are Orthodox Christians about the persecution they face on a day-to-day basis. People lose their jobs because of their religion and their property is confiscated. An educator who is also a tour guide showed him where uprisings against Orthodox Christians have taken place. It was disheartening to see, he said. FATHER SCHEFE said that because of the Turkish requirement of citizenship and military service, the Ecumenical Patriarchate could cease to be. This is disturbing and virtually unthinkable to all who are Orthodox worldwide. Alaska, as the most Orthodox state in the Union, should do all it can to encourage the government of Turkey to respect religious rights and recognize the universal importance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. 2:47:28 PM SOPHIA JANE ZABO, representing herself, said that as an Orthodox Christian and American she is asking the Legislature to pass SJR 28 in support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and religious rights in Turkey. Religious freedom should be celebrated not just in Turkey, but everywhere, she said. In conclusion she quoted Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: Every ecosystem on this planet is like a nation. The estuary is not the tundra, nor is the savannah the desert. But like every culture, every ecosystem will have an effect that goes far beyond its boundaries. And when we understand that every ecosystem is part of the singular ecosphere that is inhabited by every living breath filling the world, then do we grasp the interconnectedness, the powerful communion of all life, and our true interdependency on one another. CHAIR FRENCH closed public testimony and announced he would hold SJR 28 in committee. SENATOR COGHILL expressed a desire to hear whether or not the Governor had taken a position on the resolution, if the State Department had been involved, and the impact that resolutions from other states might have had. 2:51:15 PM CHAIR FRENCH responded the bill sponsor will have an opportunity to bring that information at the next hearing. He set SJR 28 aside.