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Speak Up! challenge promotes end to religious persecution

| Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Speak Up! campaign is challenging Notre Dame students to help end religious persecution. The project, sponsored by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, calls for students to “create effective and creative communication tools that will raise awareness and call for solidarity with one or more religious community that suffers from religious persecution,” according to the campaign website.

Zahra Vieneuve, project manager for the international conference “Under Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution,” said the campaign was prompted by the lack of media coverage on issues of religious persecution.

“Usually, most of the stories of systematic religious persecution go unreported until there is a full blown crisis. Without media coverage of these stories, there will be no public interest in the issue of religious freedom, and so the voices of many people will remain silenced,” Vieneuve said. “And somehow [we must] ensure that these stories are shared and told whether or not there is interest from the mainstream media.”

Vieneuve said students can submit works of any medium, as long as the work effectively raises awareness for religious persecution.

“We’re not just asking for videos or essays. You can submit a song or a calendar that somehow reflects the stories of the groups being persecuted, a poster or an illustrated short story. Anything that will raise awareness of groups being persecuted and propose an action on behalf of these communities,” Vieneuve said.

Students do not have to focus on religious persecution as experienced by Catholics, she said.

“This challenge is about systematic persecution that is happening anywhere against any religious community,” Vieneuve said. “This is about choosing a certain persecuted religious group, researching the persecution they face in a certain country, and finding a medium — any medium — and expressing their stories in a way that would encourage in solidarity with them and action on their behalf.”

The deadline for students to submit their work is Oct. 26 at noon, according to the Speak Up! website.

“Speak Up! is part of a bigger initiative we hope to implement at Notre Dame to engage our community in showing solidarity with all religious communities who are facing serious violations of their right to religious freedom. Speak Up! is the first activity that we’ve launched under this initiative,” Vieneuve said. “The idea is to come together as a community to learn about the different violations that are happening to many religious groups world-wide. One of the questions that is most frequently asked is ‘What can we do about religious persecution?’ The idea is to invite students to respond to this question and come up with different strategies through which we can raise awareness of the violations that are happening and raise awareness of the right to freedom of religion and belief.”

A committee comprised of five Notre Dame faculty and staff members will judge the entries, Vieneuve said, and the final results will be announced by Oct. 29.

“Members of many different religions and faiths are oppressed. [This contest] is about showing how this oppression is multifaceted, how this oppression is happening in many different countries and how each and every one of us has a responsibility to do something and stand in solidarity with those who are persecuted for their religious beliefs,” Vieneuve said.

According to the website, a first selection will be made to choose the entries that will be displayed first in O’Shaughnessy’s Great Hall and then at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome during the three-day “Under Caesar’s Sword” international conference that will take place Dec. 10 through 12. Conference participants will include Christian leaders, government officials, scholars, human rights activists, representatives of world religions, students and other stakeholders.

Vieneuve said the competitions submissions of Notre Dame students will be displayed at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome during the conference to encourage a conversation between Notre Dame students and religious freedom advocates present at the conference.

“We want to share a few strategies, a few ideas, that the students of Notre Dame have developed to share information about what’s happening or how to act on behalf of persecution communities. This will be a great opportunity for students to be in a conversation with different experts who will be in Rome for the conference,” Vieneuve said.

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