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50 Attend Fourth Capitol Hill Summit

By Kevin Gurubatham and Beth Michaels

More than 50 supporters of the North American Religious Liberty Association (NARLA) gathered at Sligo church in Takoma Park, Md., for the 2009 Capital Hill Summit. The four-day, fourth annual event started with a daylong lecture by union Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) directors from across the country on important issues currently affecting Seventh-day Adventists. They also gave rigorous training on lobbying techniques and how to effectively influence congressional legislation.

On Thursday, after a brief worship by Michelle Chin, an Adventist legislative aid for Sen. John Cornyn, attendees divided into teams and visited offices on Capitol Hill. By day’s end, they had shown their support for religious liberty and the Workplace Religious Freedom Act to nearly 100 congressmen, senators, and legislative aides.

“It is always exciting to share with our political leaders the crucial importance of religious freedom… When it is suppressed, so are all the other freedoms our country takes for granted,” comments five-time summit attendee Sonja DeWitt, a member of the Capitol Memorial church in Washington, D.C., and an attorney specializing in discrimination law.

On Thursday evening, attendees gathered—along with representatives from embassies, government offices, non-governmental organizations, and the Adventist Church—for the seventh annual Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington, D.C. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Caucus, presented the keynote address.

On Sabbath morning at Sligo church, Walter Carson, Columbia Union Conference vice president and general counsel, worked with other union PARL leaders to coordinate a special Sabbath School and two church services. Carson and Adrian Westney, Columbia Union Conference associate director for Religious Liberty, led in a Sabbath School panel discussion moderated by Nicolas Miller of the Andrews University International Religious Freedom Institute (Mich.). John Graz, secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association, presented the divine messages.

“This is the one event each year that allows the Adventist Church to dramatically highlight its ministry and concerns on religious liberty to the thought leaders of Washington in an intimate and personal manner,” states Barry Bussey, director for the Office of Legislative Affairs for the worldwide Adventist Church. “It lends credibility to our work and ensures that we are part of the conversation.”

Religious Liberty Dinner photos by Megan Brauner/ANN
Capitol Hill Summit photos by Gary Lunsford and Cheerie Lou Capman