- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday that protecting the freedom to practice religion throughout the world is one of the most important missions of U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

But the New York Democrat, in a speech last night on religious liberty and church-state relations, said that goal must include trying to “create a space for nonbelievers” as well.

“As we hold up the importance of religious liberty, we have to take both words in that phrase to heart: religion and liberty,” she said.

Speaking hours before Pope John Paul II’s funeral Mass in Rome, where her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is in attendance, Mrs. Clinton said one of the pope’s great legacies was being a force for religious tolerance.

“I think the outpouring of affection and appreciation for John Paul II is a reflection of the yearning that people have to be connected, to believe, to have some greater purpose and meaning in their lives,” she said.

She spoke at the annual Religious Freedom dinner, which was held in the Russell Senate Office Building and sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the International Religious Liberty Association and Liberty magazine.

Mrs. Clinton said she has been “heartened” by the elections in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but said her two trips to those nations underscore the challenges the two nations face.

“We must help and we must support their efforts to create a democratic government that does protect religious liberty. It will be a very important issue in the upcoming constitutional deliberations in Iraq,” she said.

She said that means carving out a system that reflects the beliefs of the majority, but “does so in a context of respect for others.”

“It runs against their traditions, in many instances, and they will have to be very statesmanlike to craft new space for diversity, for tolerance, and we must help them accomplish that,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton, a Methodist, said she was “fortunate to be raised by parents who prayed,” and she recalled seeing her father on his knees praying by the side of his bed every day, just as he watched her say her prayers.

Mrs. Clinton called for passage of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which was first introduced in 1997 but has never been passed and signed into law. It would protect employees from being penalized for observing their Sabbath or religious holidays, or for wearing religiously required clothing.

She said her husband, while president, had his administration issue guidelines that set standards for federal agencies to allow accommodations in the workplace for religious speech, and to protect federal workers from religious coercion.

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