Sunday, May 20, 2007

The travel ban in action

The U.S. Treasury Department has backed down on a threat to levy a $34,000 fine against the Alliance of Baptists, reportedly because its investigation showed that member churches in Alabama, Washington, D.C., Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee did not engage in “forbidden economic activity” while in Cuba for religious fellowship missions.

Well, that’s a relief.

But Treasury, the report said, reminded the Alliance that it no longer has a license to sponsor travel to Cuba, and that the Administration’s new policy is no longer to grant licenses to regional or national religious organizations that would allow its member congregations to travel to Cuba.

According to Americans who support religious travel to Cuba, the Administration is scrutinizing religious travel more closely by licensing trips individually, and is tilting against contacts with churches that are members of the Cuban Council of Churches, which the Administration views as pro-government. Members of the Council are registered with the government in order to have legal status, which allows them to acquire property, build churches, and carry out other functions. Cuba’s Catholic church has never registered.

When President Bush himself visited Beijing in 2005, he worshiped in a church that is registered with the Chinese government and is part of what local communist officials view as a “patriotic” organization of congregations. “The spirit of the Lord is very strong inside your church,” President Bush told the pastor after the service.

The travel ban and the U.S. government’s scrutiny over the itineraries and spending of those Americans who are licensed to travel to Cuba, are part of the Administration’s policy to bring “an end to the Cuban dictatorship.”

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