Representatives of countries around the world attended the UN General Assembly's plenary meeting on interfaith issues in New York. Initiated by Saudi Arabia, the event was aimed at promoting understanding among people of different religions and cultures.
In his address, President George Bush said that those attending the conference "profess different creeds and worship in different places," but their faith leads them to common values, including respect for the dignity of life, and opposition to the misuse of religion as justification for violence and murder.
Mr. Bush said that 60 years ago, members of the UN General Assembly acknowledged that all people have a fundamental right to religious freedom and to worship as they see fit. The General Assembly recognized that right, he said, when it adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaimed that every person has the right to choose or change religions, and the right to worship in private or in public.
President Bush noted that freedom of religion has played a unique role in the history of the United States -- from its founding by people seeking a haven from religious persecution, to its enshrining the 'free exercise' of religion in the First Amendment to its Constitution, to its defense of religious liberty for others, "from liberating the concentration camps of Europe, to protecting Muslims in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq."
The United States continues that tradition by making religious liberty a central element of its foreign policy, said Mr. Bush:
"We strongly encourage nations to understand that religious freedom is the foundation of a healthy and hopeful society. We’re not afraid to stand with religious dissidents and believers who practice their faith, even where it is unwelcome."
Mr. Bush said that one of the best ways to safeguard religious freedom is to aid the rise of democracy, because democracies "make room for people of all backgrounds and all faiths ... [and] allow people with diverse views to discuss their differences and live in harmony."
Mr. Bush said that over the eight years of his presidency, he has seen "how freedom and faith can lift up lives and lead the world toward peace." He expressed appreciation to the nations participating in the interfaith dialogue at the UN. "Through dialogue," said Mr. Bush, "we can draw closer to the day when our prayers for freedom and peace are answered."