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MEPs Ask Sauerbrey to Withdraw from World Congress of Families

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Members of the European Parliament Ask Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey to Withdraw from World Congress of Families

28 March 2007

Ellen Sauerbrey
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration

U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC  20520

Dear Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey,

We understand that you have accepted an invitation to speak at the World Congress of Families, organized by the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society in Warsaw, 11-13 May.

We urge you to withdraw from this conference because your participation provides an official U.S. government stamp of approval to extremist and intolerant views held by some participants and attendees. These extremist and intolerant views include prejudiced attitudes toward foreigners, people from other religions, homosexuals, and the inclusive vision of what represents a family unit that has been developed by the United Nations and the European Union.

Organizations like the Howard Center may hold whatever gatherings they choose, but it ill-behooves a senior representative of the U.S. government to bestow legitimacy on the marginal and extremist views that target some of the most vulnerable people in society.

We fear that by providing official support for these views, you will undermine Europe-wide efforts to promote tolerance in Europe, especially among newer members of the European Union.

The sole aim of the World Congress of Families is to turn back the clock on recent advances in civil and political rights around the world, with the work done at the U.N. and at the E.U. a particular target. In your role as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, you must be aware of the impact that the unrepresentative views of the people attending this conference will have on the life and death issues that affect the world’s poor.

As European parliamentarians we feel that it is a diplomatic faux pas for a high-ranking official of the U.S. Department of State to participate in the upcoming Warsaw event with individuals whose views oppose what is laid out in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The following sample will illustrate just how extreme are the views that will be represented at this meeting.

Fr. Thomas Euteneuer is the president of Human Life International and represents an organization that has continuously courted controversy through extremist actions and statements, such as publicly accusing Jews of controlling the abortion-rights movement and calling sniper attacks on doctors who perform abortions “a superb tactic.”

Steven W. Mosher is president of the Population Research Institute, which, in its FAQs, discusses the alleged “demographic destruction” in Europe by claiming that Muslims are to blame. “These immigrants, particularly Muslim ones in Europe, are too many and too culturally different from their new countries' populations to assimilate quickly, and they are contributing to the cultural suicide of these nations as they commit demographic suicide.”

Austin Ruse is the president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and has made tasteless jokes about violence against women when he made remarks about “taking out” Hillary Clinton and obstructing the work of international organizations. “Hillary [Clinton] is the ‘conquering queen’ at the United Nations…I was standing on the floor of the UN a couple of months ago, when she was thinking about running, and I was talking to a priest from the Holy See delegation and—I shouldn’t tell you this but he offered me guaranteed absolution if I just took her out—and not on a date.” - “And then we broke every single rule of UN lobbying…something like pandemonium ensued.”

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family has made dangerous and unscientific statements about condom use to prevent HIV and AIDS. The most notorious was perhaps during his appearance on a BBC documentary on the subject, when he said that the HIV virus is small enough to pass through condoms and promoting condom use is like playing "Russian roulette" with AIDS. He remarks further that "safe-sex" campaigns are dangerous because they increase promiscuity and give condom users a false sense of security.

A key sponsor of the conference, the Family Research Council, recently developed an advertising campaign that attacked Christians who do not agree with it as being against people of faith and anti-Christian.

Another major sponsor is Poland's Fr. Peter Skarga Association for Christian Culture whose chairman gave a speech in October 2004 during which he vehemently opposed the European Constitution's Charter of Fundamental Rights claiming that “the equality of sexes in all areas shall lead to the obliteration of traditional and natural social roles of men and women.”

You will, no doubt, be aware of the recent concerns many have raised about the current political climate in Poland. Recently, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on member countries “firmly to condemn homophobic hate speech or incitement to hatred and violence.”  This was in part driven by events in Warsaw, where in both 2004 and 2005 the then-mayor of Warsaw and now president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, banned gay rights parades, accusing them of “propagating gay orientation.” In addition he refused to meet with the organizers calling them “perverts.” In 2004, when some gay rights activists marched peacefully to protest his decision, they were attacked by skinheads, whom Kaczynski then defended.

A special concern of ours relates to how this conference intends to deal with the concept of family. The European Union defines family members, in the context of free movement within the E.U., as including registered partners if the legislation of the host member state considers registered partnership as equivalent to marriage, as several European nations do. In addition, the concept of a durable relationship has also been ratified, meaning that couples in long-standing relationships are considered family members. 

In reviewing the agenda and speakers’ list for the conference, we fear that many of the speakers will be hostile to this inclusive vision of what represents a family in the 21st century. Many speakers have themselves or represent organizations that have expressed outright hostility to recognizing any family unit that does not include a married couple and their offspring. Their targets include unmarried heterosexual couples—even those in long-term, committed relationships, single parents and homosexual couples. Given the recent history of homophobic attacks in Poland, we are very concerned that some extremist elements may use the cover provided by the conference to cause violence against gay men and women, something which we are sure you do not condone.

The United States rightly prides itself on supporting and spreading religious tolerance, pluralism and inclusion. This conference, and many who will be attending, reject that ethos outright. We have no problem with people expressing beliefs and convictions that we do not share. In a free society, that is right and just. However, we do object when foreign government officials lend support to such views, especially when platforms are used to denigrate and attack those with whom they disagree.

We urge you to withdraw from participating in the event. If you are open to learning more about E.U. policies concerning families, women’s rights, children’s rights and about the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, we would be very happy to welcome you as a special guest in a meeting of the European Parliamentary Working Group on Separation of Religion and Politics.

Yours sincerely,

Sophie in't Veld
Chair, Working Group

Magda Kosane Kovacs
Karin Resetarits
Vice-Chairs, Working Group

Marie-Arlette Carlotti, France
Michael Cashman, United Kingdom
Richard Corbett, United Kingdom
Proinsias De Rossa, Ireland
Patrick Gaubert, France
Claire Gibault, France
Gisela Kallenbach, Germany
Jean Lambert, United Kingdom
Katalin Levai, Hungary
Eva Lichtenberger, Austria
Gérard Onesta, France
Eva-Britt Svensson, Sweden
Csaba Tabajdi, Hungary
Max Van den Berg, The Netherlands
Anne Van Lancker, Belgium
Gabi Zimmer, Germany