- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Samuel Ericsson said he got an unforgettable dose of history on his first visit to a Greek courtroom. During a one-day stop in Athens in December, he obliged a Greek lawyer by offering expert testimony in a trial of 15 Pentecostals accused of proselytizing. Attempting to persuade people to change their religious affiliations especially from the dominant Greek Orthodox Church is a crime in Greece.
Mr. Ericsson, who directs Advocates International, a law firm in Fairfax that links Christian lawyers around the globe, said he witnessed "a modern-day inquisition."
The police chief and Orthodox priests accused the Pentecostals of speaking about their non-Orthodox beliefs and in some cases offering free Bibles and books to others.
Thirty Orthodox priests, clad in traditional headdresses and black robes, were ordered by their bishops to attend the trial in an attempt to influence the three-judge panel and prosecutors.
"If you are sitting in a prison in Pakistan, you don't want to send a New York lawyer. You want the best Pakistani lawyer," Mr. Ericsson says. That was why Advocates' Greek lawyer Tsirbis Vassilios of the European Center for Law and Justice represented the Pentecostals.
The case clearly illustrates Advocates' mission: to defend religious freedoms and human rights for people of all faiths Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals, Muslims and Jews and to influence law and public policy by training legal professionals. Advocates bases its activities on Christianity's golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you."
Whether defending Pentecostals in Greece or the Eastern Orthodox Church in Turkey, Advocates seeks to establish common ground.
"Our approach is never confrontational," Mr. Ericsson says. "It is relational."
"To love your enemy is to go to a nation who's hostile and ask, 'How can I serve you?'" Mr. Ericsson says. "That is very disarming."
That philosophy worked well for the Advocates in Greece. The simplicity and sincerity of the defendants' testimonies moved the court; even the prosecutor eventually called the case an embarrassment and said the defendants had done nothing wrong.
The interpreter whispered into Mr. Ericsson's ear as the verdict, "free," was read 15 times.
Advocates International saw this case as an important victory for religious freedom. The group held its yearly international conference early this month in Savannah, Ga., and some of the delegates traveled to Fairfax with Mr. Ericsson before returning to their respective countries.
"The most important thing that Advocates is doing for us," says Carlos Zelada, a lawyer from Lima, Peru, "is giving us the opportunity to meet together," since members often are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles.
Mr. Zelada, who is part of Advocates' Latin America network, said the conferences give lawyers a chance to hash out strategies that fit each country's particular legal system. They return home encouraged and energized, he said, ready to put those plans into action.
Since 1991, Advocates International has linked 30,000 lawyers in 115 countries, including more than 30 formerly under communist rule and 30 governed under Islamic law.
The network supplies its lawyers with reference material and financial aid. Its main objective is to link like-minded lawyers to defend religious and human rights.
Advocates refers to it members as "innkeepers," a term rooted in the good Samaritan parable. "Everyone knows about the good Samaritan. We forget he had an assistant named the innkeeper," whom the good Samaritan paid to care for his wounded enemy, Mr. Ericsson says.
After the three-hour prosecution, the Greek court granted just 30 minutes for the defense of all 15 Pentecostals. It even attempted to cancel Mr. Ericsson's expert testimony. However, the defense attorney persuaded the chief justice to allow Mr. Ericsson four minutes, including interpretation, to speak.
The agreement came with a warning: "No sermons."
Mr. Ericsson presented his credentials: born to a Pentecostal pastor in Sweden, a graduate of Harvard Law School, a participant in 50 religious freedom briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court.
It helped that he had advised Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew II, the de facto head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, several times during the past decade. He mentioned that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was a highly respected Pentecostal.
It was this four-minute testimony that prompted the chief judge to let all 15 defendants speak, leading to their acquittals.
Advocates uses Christianity's golden rule as its guiding principle because it is echoed by many religious teachings and establishes common ground.
The approach was used effectively in Guatemala, where Advocates lawyer Rene Lam spent more than five years on a human rights project for women and children. The fundamentals of the project have been drafted into law in Guatemala, where 50 percent of the population is younger than 18.
Advocates in Africa also focuses on human rights. In Kenya, lawyer Kamotho Waiganjo worked to secure identity cards for street children. In Ethiopia, the problem is finding competent judges, says Nardos Lemma, a former justice of the Ethiopian Federal Supreme Court.
"My vision for the country is building up the education," said Mr. Lemma, who also attended the Advocates conference in Georgia.
Members help their government leaders by training lawyers, judges and law enforcement officers. Lawyer Latchezar Popov heads Advocates Europe and the Rule of Law Institute in Bulgaria. His network also educates and helps Christian law students prepare for the legal profession.
In 1994, when Mr. Popov embarked on his mission to unite Christian lawyers, he had four members. Today, he has linked 225.
He hopes to move his organization to a more professional stage as his students take positions as judges and members of parliament.
"Living Beyond Belief," a book by Mr. Ericsson scheduled for release next year, will contain 3,000 stories from his journals. "It is not enough to believe something; you have to live it," the preface will say.
Mr. Ericsson, who says he has the upper hand on bladder cancer, is satisfied with his life's work.
"If I died today," he says, "I would die the most fulfilled man on planet Earth."

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