April 2006

April 2006

Dear Friend,

Good News from Afghanistan to Istanbul and Beyond

The lead religious freedom story in March was the Afghan trial of Abdul Rahman who converted to Christianity 16 years ago. During a child custody dispute, the family turned him over to the police. Converting to any religion from Islam is a capital crime under the Afghan Constitution and carries a mandatory death sentence by hanging. Muslim clerics called for Rahman's execution.

Many governments and human rights groups launched a campaign to save his life. A concern of all nations committed to the rule of law is that they do not appear to interfere with the independence of the Afghan judiciary. On Monday, March 27, 2006, the three-judge district court freed Rahman on grounds that the prosecutor lacked sufficient evidence to try him. There were also claims that Rahman is mentally unstable. Since many extremists vowed to murder Rahman if he was set free, he is seeking asylum in the West.

OUR ROLE IN AFGHANISTAN : We are grateful for the action taken by the prosecutor and the Afghan District Court in dismissing the case. We applaud everyone who acted on Rahman's behalf.

Although we do not take credit for Rahman's freedom, Advocates' role may bear fruit in future cases. Our mission is to bear witness of Jesus Christ through the legal profession, by encouraging and enabling advocates to do justice. We encouraged the global network to contact Afghan embassies to appeal on behalf of Rahman. We wrote to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Ambassador to the United States. I also wrote to the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ron Neumann. Ron and I were classmates at Venice High School in West Los Angeles 44 years ago! (See enclosed.)

FRIEND OF THE COURT: There are reports of 10,000 followers of Christ in Afghanistan. The Rahman case provided an opportunity to share a perspective for judges to consider in resolving difficult cases pitting secular laws and religious cultures against each other. It is generally inappropriate to write letters to judges in specific cases. Instead, we filed what may have been the first Friend of the Court brief in Afghanistan's history. A Friend of the Court or Amicus brief, common in US courts, allows nonparties to offer perspectives, arguments and legal authorities that lawyers for the actual parties may not have considered. The goal is to assist a judge in making a wise decision in a specific case that will also benefit society at large.

"SECULAR" AND "SECULARISM" ARE SUSPECT: We often hear of the importance that courts remain secular and not be influenced by religious values in their rulings. While "secular" and "secularism" may sound good to some in the West, for many Muslims these terms are viewed with great suspicion. They reflect Western views on materialism, sex, vulgarity and violence. They marginalize the role of religion in society. Muslims, on the other hand, view their religion as holistic. They do not divorce religious values from family, social, economic or legal issues. A challenge for judges in Muslim nations is to find ways to harmonize secular legal principles with Islam's worldview.

THE GOLDEN RULE: As you will see from our Friend of the Court brief, I tried to find common ground bridging the gap between secular law and deeply-held religious values. The bridge is the Golden Rule - do to others what you would have them do to you - which Jesus taught "sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). You do not need a law degree to understand Jesus' view on the essence of true justice.

A CRUCIAL FACT: Our letters and brief stressed that although many followers of Christ have been murdered for their beliefs, not one Christian, in recent memory, in any Muslim country in the world, has been executed by court order for following Christ. Our hope is that Afghanistan will not be the first nation to cross that line.

SOWING NOW, REAPING LATER: Even if our brief did not play a direct role in the release of Mr. Rahman, the perspective is of value in supporting the court's decision dismissing the case. Hopefully, the ideas will take root so that in future cases the courts will consider the value of the Golden Rule as a tool for doing justice.

HISTORIC MEETING IN ISTANBUL : During March 16-18, 2006, 24 Advocates' regional leaders from five continents - Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin and North America - met in Istanbul, Turkey to address ways to strengthen our relationships in bearing witness of Jesus Christ through the legal profession. The meeting was one of the most inspiring of my life. Amid the diversity there was an overwhelming spirit of cooperation and unity. There was open discussion as to where we've been, where we are and how we move forward together. Considering the strong personalities and great talent in the room, it was close to miraculous that there was not a single moment of tension.

Our unique network has been raised up "for such a time as this" to "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God." We thank you for your prayers and support while...

Living in His-Story,

Samuel E. Ericsson
Founder & President

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March 24, 2006

President Harmid Karzai
The Republic of Afghanistan

Subject: Friend of the Court Brief in the case of Abdul Rahman

Dear Mr. President:

Advocates International is a global network informally linking 30,000 lawyers, judges and scholars in over 140 nations on six continents committed to justice by promoting universal values. Central to its mission since its founding in 1991 has been aiding legislators, the courts, diplomats and government officials, as well as religious leaders, to consider the practical application of the universal Golden Rule in life, law and public policy. We believe that the Golden Rule, as embraced by the world's major religious traditions, can help Afghanistan find common ground and resolve the Abdul Rahman case in a way that people in Afghanistan and around the globe will consider just, fair and right.

The enclosed Friend of the Court brief has been prepared for the District Court in the Rahman case. The perspectives offered in our short brief may be helpful to the District Court in reaching a decision.

Although Christians have been murdered for their beliefs, no follower of Christ, in recent memory, in any Muslim country in the world has actually been executed by court order for making a decision to follow Christ's teaching as Mr. Rahman has done. We hope that Afghanistan 's courts will consider the Golden Rule as an overarching universal principle in rendering its decision concerning Abdul Rahman. We respectfully ask that you forward the enclosed materials to the District Court for its careful consideration.

Sincerely,

Samuel E. Ericsson
Founder & President

cc: The President of the United States, George W. Bush
The Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs for Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah
United States Secretary of State, The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
The Honorable Ambassador for Afghanistan to the United States Said T. Jawad
United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ron Neuman
Imam Muhammad al-`Asi, Islamic Center, Washington, DC

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March 24, 2006

U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Afghanistan, Ron Neumann
Department of State
Washington, DC20522

Subject: Friend of the Court Brief in the case of Abdul Rahman

Dear Ron,

It's been 44 years since we left Venice High School on a journey that has been a great adventure for both of us. And now, 44 years later, our paths cross.

As you can see from my CV and the enclosed materials, my career track has been anything but conventional. After Harvard Law School, I spent the 1970s as an antitrust lawyer. In the 1980s I led 4,500 lawyers on First Amendment and related issues, especially focusing on finding a balance in the troublesome church-state arena. It was a great run.

When the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR collapsed, my attention shifted to mobilizing lawyers - initially limited to former communist nations - to get engaged in proactive ways in human rights, ethics and conflict resolution within their nations and regions. Although our home office has only three full-time staff, we have now informally linked over 30,000 lawyers within 140 nations.

As you can see from the enclosed materials we are concerned about the case of Abdul Rahman. We have followed the practice in many countries of filing Friend of the Court briefs rather than writing letters to courts - which would be inappropriate. Sometimes our brief is the first such brief ever filed in a country. I have asked President Karzai and Ambassador Jawad to deliver our brief to the District Court hearing Mr. Rahman's case.

I realize protocol is everything in diplomacy and I am not asking any favors. I am simply providing you a copy of what we are hoping to file with the District Court.

When you come back to DC, please give us a call. We should meet at least once every 44 years.

Sincerely,

Samuel E. Ericsson
Founder & President

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In the District Court of Afghanistan

In Re: Abdul Rahman

Friend of the Court Brief

Submitted by Advocates International
by its President Samuel E. Ericsson

Advocates International is a global network informally linking 30,000 lawyers, judges and scholars in over 140 nations on six continents committed to justice by promoting universal values. Central to its mission since its founding in 1991 has been aiding legislators, the courts, diplomats and government officials, as well as religious leaders, to consider the practical application of the universal Golden Rule in life, law and public policy. We believe that the Golden Rule, embraced by all major religious traditions, can help Afghanistan find common ground and thereby resolve the current case of Abdul Rahman in a way that people in Afghanistan and around the globe will consider just, fair and right.

Friend of the Court:In many democracies, courts have the discretion to consider briefs filed as Friend of the Court. The purpose of such briefs is to provide the Court with perspectives, arguments and legal authorities that may help it reach the right decision. A proverb states: "For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure" (Proverbs 11:14). Advocates International respectfully submits this brief to assist the court in rendering the right decision in this case.

As Afghanistan proceeds on its democratic journey within the community of nations, it will occasionally reach crossroads where finding common ground is essential in making the wisest decision in resolving conflicting views on legal, social and political issues. The current case of Abdul Rahman, who may face execution for having become a follower of Christ 15 years ago, is such a moment. Although some followers of Christ have been murdered for their beliefs, no follower of Christ, in recent memory, in any Muslim country in the world has actually been executed by court order for a decision to follow Christ's teaching. The eyes of the world are focused on how Afghanistan will resolve this case consistent with universal values.

Common Roots: All three major traditions that embrace Abraham as a central spiritual leader - Islam, Christianity and Judaism - promote the Golden Rule as an affirmative duty, not just a restraint on harmful conduct. Thus, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught: "In everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). Quoting Moses, Jesus also taught that all the Law and the Prophets hang on the two Great Commandments: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-40). Likewise, in the Sunnah, Muslims are taught the affirmative duty: "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." For the physical and spiritual children of Abraham, the Golden Rule is a nonnegotiable truth on life's journey. It should impact public policy. The fact that nations may violate the Golden Rule from time to time does not undermine its universal authority.

The Origin of the Golden Rule: The seed of the Golden Rule may be found in the story of Cain and Abel taught by Muslims, Christians and Jews. Cain tricked Abel into a field and murdered him because he was intolerant of Abel's mode of worship. Thus, the first crime in the Bible was, in fact, an act of religious intolerance. When God asked Cain the whereabouts of his brother, Cain denied knowing anything. He then asked man's first question recorded in the Bible: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain's question is pregnant with the answer. Rephrasing his question, Cain, in effect, asked: How should I treat my brother? Do I have any responsibility to those who worship differently than I do? It is the Golden Rule question. One lesson from this well-known story is that we should treat those of other faiths with the same care and respect with which we hope those of other faiths will treat us.

The Golden Rule in Action: The Golden Rule requires that the actor places himself in the shoes of those on the receiving end of his actions. In the Rahman case, a helpful practical illustration by comparison might be the country of Nepal where the Constitution declares Hinduism to be the official religion. Under Nepal's Constitution, conversion from Hinduism to any other religion - including Islam - is a serious crime. What might the reaction of global Islam be if Nepal convicted and sentenced to death a Nepali who left Hinduism to embrace Islam?

At a 1996 conference on the rights of religious minorities in Bulgaria, attended by over 100 leaders from Christian, Muslim and other traditions, a government official argued that since the Eastern Orthodox Church had an 87% majority that the law should give them preferential treatment over other faiths. However, when the official was asked whether it would be right for non-Orthodox nations to treat the Orthodox as second-class citizens if they are in the minority, everyone at the conference, including the official, agreed that the Golden Rule should govern.

Every faith tradition, including Islam, is a minority somewhere on Planet Earth. Followers of Islam deserve equal protection under the law where they are in the minority and should likewise grant equal protection by applying the Golden Rule to other faiths where Islam is a majority.

Conclusion: Advocates International respectfully requests that the Court consider the application of Golden Rule principles in rendering its decision in the case of Abdul Rahman by setting him free. A death sentence for a decision to follow Christ's teaching would be the first time in recent memory that such an order has been issued.