On Religious Freedom

by Jay Milbrandt (JD/MBA '08),

 

During the morning I spent in Burma, I built a sufficient amount of trust with the Pastor that ran the orphanage.  I explained that I had gone to law school in United States, that I graduated, and now worked for Pepperdine School of Law as the Coordinator for the International Human Rights Program.  He understood all of this.  He asked, "You know about the government in Burma?"  "Yes," I replied–knowing his free speech was limited.  "I know a lot about it."  I then asked him whether there was anything I could do to help him or help in Burma.  Another man was present who was involved regionally in overseeing the Christian churches.  They spoke to each other in Burmese for a moment, then turned back to me.  This orphanage has no supporters and no donors.  They are constantly concerned that the government may shut them down because they are Christian affiliated.  I expected that he would request support money or ask for pressure to be applied regarding U.S. foreign policy with Burma.  The answer was simply: "Can you get us one English version of the King James Bible?" 

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Children at the orphanage in Burma

In Burma, there's religious freedom, but at the same time, there's not religious freedom.  The "Burmese Way of Socialism" adopted in the 1990s set out a campaign encouraging and, essentially, requiring Budhism.  For instance, it's illegal to possess a Bible made outside of Burma.  I responded to the men that I had an English version of the NIV Bible with me, and I would be happy to give it to them.  They were thrilled.  I think this matter was of greater significance than I can undestand.  They performed a small handing over ceremony complete with photos and signatures, and lavished me with thank yous.  In some sense, I feel like I was looking at the big picture, rather than seeing the immediate need.  In this case, the need for religious freedom didn't involve overthrowing the government or funding an orphanage complex, it was merely providing a version of the Bible they could not otherwise obtain.

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