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New York State Legislature signs letters urging religious freedom in Turkey

The presentation of the New York State Legislature Letters to Archbishop Demetrios. (L to R) Consul General of Cyprus Koula Sofianou, Archon John Catsimatidis, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Archbishop Demetrios, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, National Commander Dr. Anthony J.  Limberakis, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, Senator Mike Gianaris, Regional Commander Nikiforos Mathews and Consul General of Greece Ambassador Aghi Balta. (Photo by D. Panagos)

View photos of the presentation of religious freedom letters »

In an exceptional action, both chambers of the New York State Legislature have signed letters urging the government of a foreign country to practice greater religious tolerance within its borders.  The documents were presented yesterday to Archbishop Demetrios of America, spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, by the Orthodox legislators who spearheaded the signature drive, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Senator Mike Gianaris and Assemblywomen Aravella Simotas and Nicole Malliotakis.

All 62 members of the New York State Senate and 144 members of the New York State Assembly have endorsed the respective letters,  urging the government of Turkey to allow greater freedom to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey and to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world.  The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, an organization whose mission is to defend and support the Ecumenical Patriarchate, has mounted a nationwide effort to have the legislative bodies of all 50 states sign similar Religious Freedom letters or pass Religious Freedom have a similar effect.  Thus far, 37 state legislatures, now including New York, have done so.

In accepting the letters, Archbishop Demetrios of America stated, “this is an important moment for our Church as we receive a copy of these letters. We are proud that the almost unanimous acceptance of these letters by the New York State Legislature was spearheaded by our four honorable Greek-American representatives to the State Government,” he said and  at a later point added: “The cause of religious liberty is fundamental to the American way of life, and the State legislature of New York, under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Senator Michael Gianaris, and Assemblywomen Aravella Simotas and Nicole Malliotakis, have borne a powerful witness to the rights of all by underscoring the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”

John Catsimatidis, New York businessman and National Coordinator of Religious Freedom for the Order of St. Andrew, said, “This is an important day for our Church.  The leader of our faith, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, lies under siege from an abusive, hostile foreign government.  The letters signed by the New York State Senate and Assembly send a clear message across continents that religious persecution affects the world and cannot be tolerated.  I am proud of our Legislature and especially proud of the Orthodox Christians who headed the signature drive.”

Among other things, the letters from the New York State Legislature call on the Turkish government to:

  • Cease discrimination of the Ecumenical Patriarchate;
  • Grant the Ecumenical Patriarchate international recognition, ecclesiastic succession, and the right to train its clergy;
  • Respect of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s property rights; and
  • Re-open the Halki Theological School located on an island off Istanbul which was forced to close in 1971, when Turkey passed a law forbidding the establishment of private schools of higher learning.

Others on hand to witness the presentation were Archon National Commander Dr. Anthony Limberakis of Philadelphia, John Catsimatidis of New York, leader of the National Religious Freedom Taskforce and members of the Archon National Council and Archon Regional Commanders, including Nikiforos Mathews, Peter Skeadas and John Kassimatis, all of New York.

Background information

Istanbul, historically known as Constantinople, has been the center of Eastern Christianity since the 4th Century, when the city was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The city fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. 

However, the restrictions on the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the intolerance exhibited towards it by Turkish authorities has become far more pronounced over the last century.  In particular, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been denied a legal personality in Turkey which, among other things, has restricted its ability to operate effectively, to own property and to care for its churches. Moreover, the ecumenical nature of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s spiritual jurisdiction has been denied by the Turkish government, even though it has been recognized since the 6th Century and is acknowledged by spiritual and civilian authorities globally. The Turkish government has also arbitrarily closed the Ecumenical Patriarchate’ s primary seminary, denying it the ability to train its clergy.  Most significantly, the Turkish government continues to meddle in the election of the Ecumenical Patriarch, imposing Turkish citizenship requirements on both those eligible to vote and those eligible to be elected and insisting on the right to remove candidates from being eligible for election.  This, in effect, gives the secular Turkish government control over who can be chosen the Ecumenical Patriarch, leader of the Orthodox Church.

For more information about the Order of Saint Andrew’s state legislative religious freedom project, visit


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