Friday, February 11, 2011

Church Letter on Guidelines for Religious Licenses

February 11, 2011

The Honorable Timothy F. Geithner
Secretary of the Treasury
Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear Mr. Secretary:

As U.S. ecumenical and denominational organizations in the United States, we recently expressed to President Barack Obama and publicly our profound joy for the Executive Order issued by the President providing for general licenses for religious travel to Cuba and for remittances to religious institutions in Cuba in support of religious activities.

We also welcome with appreciation the new OFAC “Cuban Assets Control Regulations” issued to implement the Executive Order, in particular the clear declaration that general licenses will be provided for all “religious organizations located in the United States, including members and staff of such organizations.”

We understand that OFAC is currently developing more detailed “Guidelines” for the interpretation of these regulations. For these regulations to be viewed by the U.S. churches as meeting the needs of U.S. religious institutions and of our partner churches in Cuba, as well to constitute an advance over the restrictive condition we have endured since 2005, the guidelines must fully embody and facilitate the goal of encouraging travel by people of faith in the United States to support their sisters and brothers of faith in Cuba. The guidelines should be written so as to lead to a substantial increase in the number of religious delegations that are able to travel to Cuba under the general license.  This is the only way to fulfill the spirit and purpose of the Executive order.

Accordingly, we write to ask for your reassurance that under the guidelines:

• All religious organizations will be treated in the same way, and all qualify under the general license.  Local parishes and congregations, national, regional and state denominational bodies, and religious orders and ecumenical organizations, must all be treated equally.  The guidelines should neither privilege nor discriminate against local, regional and national levels of religious organization.  The differential treatment under the regulations promulgated in 2005 was discriminatory, unduly restrictive, and potentially unconstitutional in its impact.  It should be completely eliminated, as the new regulations clearly indicate by the revised language in 515.566 (a) and (b).

• All genuine members of these religious institutions -- clergy, staff, parishioners, congregants and any other members as recognized in good faith by the institutions themselves -- will be eligible to participate in delegations sponsored by the institutions of which they are a part. Religious organizations will ensure that those who participate are members and staff.  But OFAC should not require presubmission or pre-approval of the names of group participants.

• The general license will be clear that religious delegations must engage in a full time program of religious activities; it may require delegations to keep records to show their compliance with this regulation, if asked.  But the license will not require pre-approval by OFAC of scheduled activities.

• The general license will not limit the number of trips which any given religious organization may take in a year, nor how many participants may go on a trip. Each denominational and ecumenical organization has the need and opportunity to make numerous trips annually in order to accompany, support and engage in vital fellowship with their partner churches and religious organizations in Cuba.  As long as religious organizations keep records of participants and activities, so that OFAC can verify compliance, there should be no restrictions on the size or frequency of trips for any religious organization.

• The new regulations concerning religious remittances (515.570c) permit contributions “to religious organizations in Cuba in support of religious activities” under general license.  Specific license applications for such contributions are no longer required. We also understand that the $500 per quarter limit for remittances to individuals does not apply to these contributions. The remittances should be able to be broadly used for any religiously-related activity, as determined between the U.S. and Cuban institutions involved. Furthermore, any U.S. religious organization at the local, state, regional or national level should be able to send such remittances to any Cuba religious organization at the local, state, regional or national level without pre-authorization, although record keeping can be required.

None of these elements should be controversial and all are reasonable and obvious applications of the Executive Order and Regulations. We are writing today confident in the President’s intent to fully open up religious travel to Cuba and we welcome your assurances regarding these matters.

Yours respectfully,

The Reverend John L. McCullough
Executive Director and CEO
Church World Service

Mr. Johnny Alicea-Baez
Director of Global Mission
Reformed Church in America

Mr. Alexander D. Baumgarten
Director of Government Relations
The Episcopal Church

The Reverend Paula Clayton Dempsey
Minister for Partnership Relations
Alliance of Baptists

Mr. Thomas Kemper
General Secretary
General Board of Global Ministries
United Methodist Church

Mr. Peter Vander Meulen
Coordinator, Office of Social Justice
Christian Reformed Church

The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson
Director, Office of Public Witness
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The Reverend Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary
National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA

The Reverend Dr. José Norat-Rodríguez
Area Director, Iberoamerica and the Caribbean
International Ministries
American Baptist Churches of the USA

The Reverend Felix Ortiz
Area Executive for Latin America and the Caribbean
Global Ministries
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

The Reverend Dr. Walter Parrish III
General Secretary
Progressive National Baptist Convention

The Reverend Dr. Raquel Rodriguez
Director for the Latin America/Caribbean Desk
Global Mission
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Mr. Daniel Restrepo, Special Assistant to the President, NSC
Mr. Adam Szubin, Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control
Mr. Peter M. Brennan, Coordinator, Cuban Affairs, Department of State
Mr. Daniel P. Erikson, Senior Advisor, Western Hemisphere Affairs, Department of State
Mr. Joshua DuBois, Executive Director, White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Mr. Paul Monteiro, Associate Director, White House Office of Public Engagement

Please respond to Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 700, New York, NY10115, email:

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